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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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.

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.

November 22, 2009

Why I Wait Within The Mormon Church

Posted in Family, feminism, the Mormon church, waiting at 10:42 pm by Gaia

Attending my Mormon congregation is a struggle for me sometimes. A lot of the rhetoric I hear over the pulpit about gender roles and identity, “us” vs. “the world”, exclusivity, and black and white statements in general – not to mention a lack of focus on the social gospel – drive me up a wall.

But despite all of that, I am somewhat committed to staying at least a partially active member, to waiting for the Church to change. I can locate a few reasons for this.

1. Mike. He’s the best human male I’ve ever met. Hands down. Kind, ethical, compassionate, thoughtful. And really smart. Sure, there are some things I would change (e.g. his politics and lesser interest in helping animals), but overall he is an incredibly good person. And the LDS Church helped produce him. I can’t forget that. Every time I wonder why I stay, I look at him and know that the Church can indeed do very good things for some people and teach some very good principles. It helped fashion a marvelous human being in Mike.

2. While I find a lot of Joseph Smith’s actions, particularly during the Nauvoo period deeply problematic, I like his radical vision of a new religion. I find compelling his vision for the divine potential of humans, male and female. I like his radical approach to battling poverty through the United Order. I think his ideas about the spiritual and divine potential of women were particularly revolutionary, as when he “turned the key” to the women’s Relief Society and organized them “in the order of the priesthood.” I think our present day Church institution has unfortunately retreated from the liberated vision Joseph Smith had for women.

3. I wait within the Church because I now realize I can choose what to believe in. I wait because I now realize that I have the privilege, the right, and the responsibility to embrace those wonderful LDS ideas that empower me and to reject the ones that don’t. And this realization – that I can choose what to believe in, that Mormonism is not an all or nothing proposition – has liberated me. By rejecting the ideas that tear me down and hurt me (men presiding in the family, women having to hearken unto husbands, a circumscribed definition of womanhood, polygamy as my eternal future), I am now at liberty to embrace the ideas which I love that are also a part of my faith. It inspires me to know that the Jesus we Mormons believe in is the same Jesus who went out of his way to include and teach the outcasts of society, to break taboos, and to uplift all humans despite race, sex, or class. That is the Jesus I accept and love, and any ideas that have crept into Mormonism that go against that, I roundly reject.

4. I wait because I know that leaders need to be allowed to make mistakes and grow. At this point in my spiritual life, I am on a religious journey that privileges my own conception of God’s wishes and my own conscience (i.e. personal revelation/the Spirit) over the statements of Church Authorities. I now realize that all human beings, including Church leaders, are subject to their own cultural contexts, and that even the wisest, most wonderful leaders can allow unfortunate cultural ideas to creep into their conceptions of the gospel. I am trying to be more compassionate towards these leaders. After all, they are human, and I am human. And I know that I make mistakes too.

5. I wait because of my own fallibility. This realization of my own fallibility has also profoundly affected my relationship with the Church. Just as I need the Divine to forgive me for all the mistakes I make, I know that I need to forgive the institutional Church for the mistakes it makes. It’s not easy to do. I am hurt by the ways women are routinely shut out from the general Church hierarchy, by the ways women’s voices and ideas are lost or ignored in nearly all Church talks and lessons. But I need to give the Church time to progress. This is the gospel of progression; it is also the Church of progression. And I have reason to hope that it will indeed progress with time. (After all, blacks did eventually get the priesthood.)

6. I also wait within the Church because, in order for the Church to progress, it needs people like me. The Church benefits from having all types of people of various ethnic backgrounds, ideologies, and political persuasions. The more types of people it has, the more types of people it can help. Besides, this is my church too. If progressive, liberal people keep leaving the Church, it will be left with a population that grows steadily more conservative and homogeneous in ideology. This would negatively impact its ability to be the inclusive and compassionate church I know it has the potential to be.

November 20, 2009

The Church of O: Practicing Oprah

Posted in feminism, Oprah, Spirituality tagged , , , , at 4:22 pm by Gina Messina

Although our topic for this week is waiting, at the last minute I decided to veer off track when I heard that Oprah would be going off the air.  There is much to be said about her and what she has offered to both women and men over the last near 25 years.  While Oprah is a leading talk show host and media queen, she is also one of America’s most influential spiritual leaders.  With over 26 million viewers, Oprah Winfrey has created a congregation that is inspired daily by the sermons preached from her pulpit.  Her message is simple: “Live your best life.”  According to the Gospel of Oprah, you have a duty to make yourself happy.  Although her parishioners are mostly women, men also partake in looking to Oprah for guidance on health, happiness, and salvation, including Barack Obama who referred to Oprah as his “host” during a speech on his religious beliefs in Iowa on December 10, 2007.

Viewing Oprah can be seen as a religious process.  Everyday people make time to turn on their television and listen to an hour of inspiration directly from the gospel of Oprah.  It becomes a ritual of attending “church.” Parishioners attend the service, listen to the message and then take that message, evaluate it, and apply it to their lives.  Further, the viewers go out and spread the message.  Oprah’s congregation is eager to share Oprah’s message for the day with family, friends, and even the stranger in the grocery store.  With her show airing daily in 132 countries and 205 television markets, Oprah is preaching to a much larger congregation than any other evangelist.    

Oprah not only reaches her congregation via her talk show, she has a multimedia empire through which her followers are able to her message.  The talk show host, producer, philanthropist, and spiritual guru speaks to her congregation through O Magazine, O Magazine at Home, the Oprah Book Club, Oprah and Friends on XM Radio, and Harpo Productions. In each of her media outlets, Oprah only ties her name to products that promote her message of empowerment, self-improvement, and self-actualization. 

Using self-disclosure, confession, and honest talk, Oprah has encouraged her parishioners to enter a new phase of life.  She calls for the sharing of inner life experience to shed negativity and emerge empowered with a new self worth.  A symbol of spiritual renewal, Oprah is a catalyst for a new religion in America.  She has redefined the religious experience.  As a spiritual leader Oprah Winfrey has influenced millions with her vision of possibilities and message of self love. 

Women across the country, including Melissa Ethridge, have claimed Oprah to be their religion.  They have turned to Oprah for their spiritual fix and have been inspired by Oprah’s message.  Oprah has provided them with a spirituality that no church can offer.  In the Church of O women are not oppressed, in the Church of O women to do not need to suffer, in the Church of O, happiness is a must.  Women receive tools for real life and are not made to feel guilty about it.

October 12, 2009

The Mormon Goddess

Posted in feminism, Goddess tagged , , at 6:34 am by Gaia

Feathered Goddess by Emily Balivet

Feathered Goddess by Emily Balivet

One of the best things about being a Mormon woman is the fact that we do believe in a divine feminine, a Heavenly Mother.  This sets Mormons apart in the Christian tradition.

Unfortunately, however, our belief in God the Mother is a double edged sword, since we are instructed by our (male) leaders to not pray to Her. She is never talked about as having any kind of relationship with Her children on earth. She is never talked about at all, really. To mention Her in church is to draw worried looks. She is too sacred, Mormons surmise, to even mention.

God the Mother’s invisibility is a major problem for Mormon feminists. Is it better to have a feminine divine that won’t or can’t have a relationship with Her children, or is it better to not have one at all?

Despite the obvious problems and dangers with Her current status in the Church, I fall on the side of being happy we have Her. And because she is such a mystery, I can project on to Her all that I want her to be.

After reading an article on the feminine divine by Carol Christ, I was inspired to use some of Christ’s words and images to imagine my Goddess, my Mother. She is purposefully characterized against traditional, static, colorless Christian conceptions of divinity.

The Goddess
Her eyes the green of growth,
Her robe the red of blood,
Her hair the black of night.

She is earth, air, fire, and water.
Waxing and waning,
She is the power of transformation and change,
the elements of life.

Patroness of prophecy, inspiration and power,
She is wisdom, independence, personal strength, and self.
Passion and emotion emanate,
As she savors imagination, creativity, and experimentation.

A beneficent and autonomous power,
She gives just law, heals, writes and takes action.

As giver and nurturer of life
Dispenser of wholeness and happiness,
healing love and service to all
She is Goddess.

October 9, 2009

Coming to Know Goddess Mother

Posted in Catholic, feminism, feminist theology, God, Goddess, Relationships, religion, Spirituality, Thealogy, Theology at 6:07 am by Gina Messina

Goddess Mother

Goddess Mother

Growing up in the Catholic Church I always believed God was a man.  God was always spoken of as male, and although Catholic teaching states that God is genderless, as a child growing up in the Church I never knew this.  No one ever told me that God was genderless; I only heard over and over again God referred to as Father, him, he, himself, etc.  There was never gender neutral language, there certainly was never female language.  Why would I have thought any different? 

I was also very confused by God’s attributes.  Although I heard that God was benevolent, I also heard that God punished.  I found it very distressing that God had stricken Moses dead one step outside of the Promised Land.  I was also troubled by God allowing Satan to torment Job.  However, what garnered my attention most was the crucifixion of Jesus.  Why was such a violent and horrific death of the Son of God the only acceptable sacrifice, the only way to redeem humanity? These actions seemed cruel and led me to question God’s benevolence; I feared God.

I was in college the first time I was told that God could be imaged as a woman; it was a shocking revelation.  I had always pictured God as a man, looking perhaps a lot like what I had been told Jesus looked like (what I term the “Hollywood Jesus;” blond hair, blue eyes, nothing what the historical Jesus looked like).  What would a female God look like?  If God could be imaged female, would God’s attributes be different?  Since that time I have spent a great deal of time wondering who God is.  How should God be imaged?  What is an appropriate name for God?  What are God’s characteristics? Would a female God have demanded a blood sacrifice?

While it has taken quite a bit of time and while I am certain my thoughts will continue to evolve, I have come to know God in a very different way.  For me, God is no longer male and no longer vengeful.   Instead I have re-imaged God as Goddess Mother and Goddess Mother possesses attributes that allow me to have a loving relationship with her, a relationship I had not been able to develop in the past.   

I no longer feel disconnected and fearful of God.  Rather, I encounter Mother Goddess daily through my interactions with others and my experiences with nature.  I encounter her through the support and friendship I share with the women of this blog and through my husband’s loving embrace.  I experience the Goddess in the sun that warms me and in the water that quenches my thirst.  She is loving, nurturing, sustaining and continually present.  Although there were times that I felt lost and did not know who Goddess Mother was, I know now that I was never a stranger to her.

October 3, 2009

My Body Image: Between Perception and Reality

Posted in Body Image, feminism, Resurrection of the Body at 6:25 pm by Cynthia Garrity-Bond

Considered "peasant stock" in this photo

Considered "peasant stock" in this photo

 No matter what shape or size, the words “body image” conjure-up pictures of the self that are like looking into those funny mirrors that distort and expand the body.  With few moments of relative thinness in my life, I too have struggled with a poor self-image. It started when I was a child, who while deeply wanted, was not the hoped for frail and delicate daughter my parents had imagined.  My mother, all 5’ 100 lbs was forever reminding me that I took after my father’s Swedish side of the family, more akin to “peasant stock,” you know, those larger boned women who could birth a baby one day and return to the fields the next—you get the picture.  This is the image I came to accept of my own body, which was far from the wispy, delicate girl I longed to be.

And then my baptism into feminism, with all its corrections of the androcentric world to which I belonged. Of the many hopes within feminism, it was the release from my own body image that I longed for.  I wanted to feel at home and at one with what I was, not what I hoped to be.  Truth be known, it has never happened.

A few years back in my Medieval Theology course we were examining the Catholic doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body through such thinkers as Irenaeus, Aquinas and Bonaventure. In what my instructor thought was an affirmation of the body, she interpreted the doctrine to mean that after death we will take on our bodies as they were in life, meaning, we would look pretty much the same as we did while tromping around on earth.  In contemplating her words I sought clarification.  “So” I asked, “the body I have now will be the body I carry with me throughout eternity?”  “Well, yes” my slight and thin professor responded. Letting her words sink in for a moment I finally responded with a resounding, WTF!”  I gasped.  I don’t want this body to haunt me in the next life, I want Ashley Judd’s, or Jennifer Aniston’s, hell, I’ll even consider an anonymous model from the LL Bean catalog, but not THIS body!”

Now my battle has taken on a more urgent quest.  Instead of losing weight for perfection, I must now consider my health. The legacy of my “peasant stockiness” has no doubt left a lingering affect on me, but I continue the fight between perception and reality.

September 26, 2009

Why I’m Glad My Hawk Nose Grew Back

Posted in Body Image, feminism at 9:29 pm by Gaia

caroline-march-2008

When I was a teenager, I agonized over my nose. Large, bold, and bumpy, no one in my family could figure out what ancestor it came from. I often wore my hair down so that with a toss of my head I could easily hide it. I was self-conscious and shy, and it was all due, I was convinced, to my terrible nose.

How I suffered over it. Eventually my mom got sick of hearing about it so she’d say, “Well, why don’t you do something about it?” So we went to a plastic surgeon. A month before my 18th birthday, I underwent surgery to remove the bump, narrow it a little, and make the tip slightly finer.

This is probably a bit shocking to a lot of you, but you should understand my cultural context. Where I came from – an affluent town in So Cal – several young people got nose jobs. My two best friends did. So did a boy and a girl in my congregation who were in my grade. It was not that unusual a thing to do.

The experience itself was terrible. Somehow the plastic surgeon convinced me to choose a local anesthetic. Big mistake. The shots inside my nose were one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. And then I lay awake and watched them lean over me and file down my nose. When it was all over, my face was swollen to twice its normal size. I had an emotional breakdown after I saw myself in the mirror that night. Against my bruised and swollen face, my new nose looked like a pig nose – my worst nightmare.

But a month after the surgery, I was loving life. My new nose looked fantastic once the swelling left. I felt fantastic. I went away to college confident, happy, and far more outgoing than I had ever been before. I had absolutely no regrets.

Over the years, however, my feminist sensibilities have made me question this decision I made at 17. Did I just fall into that old societal trap that told me that I had to have a Barbie face to be attractive? Was all that confidence false and misplaced? Did I sacrifice my own distinctive look for something merely unobjectionable?

I think the answer to all those questions is probably yes. If I could go back and have a conversation with my teenage self, I think I would try to talk her out of doing it. I would try to help her to realize that one shouldn’t let fashion magazines make a person so miserable for looking a little different. I would try to convince her to focus on all the great features she had, physical and especially non-physical.

But at the same time, I still can’t deny how much the surgery meant to me at that point in my life, how much it increased my happiness in those heady years between 18 and 23 when I felt beautiful, powerful, and completely in charge of my own destiny.

And the ironic thing? My nose grew back. (Apparently this happens sometimes when young people get this kind of plastic surgery.) It took 12 years of gradual growing, but I no longer have that perfectly straight fine tipped nose that filled me with such relief and giddiness. It’s pretty hawkish these days. And I must say, I rather like it. It’s distinctive. It’s strong. It’s what I should have embraced as uniquely me from the beginning.

September 25, 2009

In a Barbie World: Wanting to Want My “Imperfections”

Posted in Body Image, feminism at 12:57 am by Gina Messina

  • Perfection?

    Perfection?

Okay, so let me out myself.  14 years ago I decided to have cosmetic surgery; rhinoplasty or a “nose job” to be precise.  What brought me to this decision? What made me decide to permanently alter my physical appearance? As much as I hate to admit it…a boy.  I was twenty years old, in my first serious relationship and had been dating this boy (he was adult age, but mentality wise…well, you get it) for about a year when he told me that he couldn’t marry a girl with a nose like mine.  As you can imagine, I was devastated.  Up until that point I felt pretty confident in myself.  Overall I was happy with my appearance; however that one comment turned my negated my confidence and left me feeling ugly.  At his prompting I ended up in surgery and with a new nose that wiped away my father’s genetic marking.  A few months later I caught him with another woman and our relationship was over.

From that point on, body image became a major issue for me.  I contemplated other cosmetic surgeries (although I never went through with any) and obsessed about my weight which has gone up and down (but mainly up) over the years.  I became completely consumed with the “ideal” image of woman and trying to attain that overall physical appearance.  I wondered why I couldn’t be one of those Victoria Secret models. 

I would like to say that 14 years later, as a strong standing feminist, I am over this body image issue and even regret my decision to have cosmetic surgery; but I cannot.  I often contemplate what would life be like if I had not had cosmetic surgery.  Would my now husband had found me attractive and asked me out in the first place?  Of course I want to think that I should have never had the surgery, I want to regret it, but the surgery has given me one less thing to obsess about with my body image.  It just seems impossible to appreciate any of my attributes when I am bombarded with messages that my unique characteristics are “imperfections.”

Every which way you turn society is demanding “perfection” from women in their appearances.  However these demands are nearly impossible to achieve.  I’d like to share some facts about women and body image that I find disconcerting:

  • The average American model is 5’11” and 117lbs.  However, the average American woman is 5’4” and 140 lbs. 
  •  The “ideal” woman that is portrayed by models is 20% underweight.  A study in 1995 showed that 70% of women who looked at models in a magazine for three minutes felt guilty, ashamed and depressed.
  • 40-50% of American women are trying to lose weight at any given time.
  • 25% of women in college have an eating disorder.
  • Nearly half of women smokers choose to smoke to control their weight.
  • 53% of girls are unhappy with their bodies by age 13; this percentage grows to 78% by age 17.
  • In a sample of high school students, females had a much higher level of dissatisfaction with their bodies.  While males reported receiving information of health and diet from their parents, females reported magazines as their primary source.
  • Barbie, as in the Barbie Doll, is 5′9” tall and 110 lbs.  In real life this weight and height would measure a BMI of 16.24 and severely underweight. Her proportions, 39” bust, 18” waist, 33” thighs and a size 3 shoe, would cause her to walk on all fours; it would be impossible to walk upright.
  • In 2007, women had nearly 10.6 million cosmetic procedures; that’s 91% of the total 11.7 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the United States.  (See  http://momgrind.com/2009/01/28/women-body-image/)

Every day when I look in the mirror I see the small scar on my nose and I am reminded of how I have betrayed my own beliefs, I feel shame and guilt, like I am not a true feminist.  I feel that I have participated in this ongoing abuse of the woman’s self image.  I want to want my nose back and appreciate my “god given” attributes.  However, do I regret the nose job?  Would I go back and change things if I could?  Nope.

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