Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Feminine Genius

Whenever I've hear the term "feminine genius" in a Catholic setting, I've always felt like I'd heard it before but couldn't remember where. Finally, after hanging out with a bunch of Catholic menopausal women, it clicked.

My Catholic all-women's college library had a wealth of books about midwifery, menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, birth, and "feminine" bodily experiences altogether. Most of these had been written and self-published from the 70's through the mid-90's with a strong emphasis on herbal remedies. "Our Bodies, Ourselves" was perhaps the most groundbreaking as it was the first medical book that explained, among many other things (red flags of domestic abuse & how to survive it, for example), the realities of female bodies without telling said female bodies what they should do to fill a certain agenda. A few of these books used the term "feminine genius" to mean the treatment of "feminine" bodily changes - it's foolish to claim, these books argued, that any & all actions done by a mind within a "feminine" body would automatically be "feminine" acts. Obviously, this made an impression!
"Feminine genius" involved the wisdom of midwives & doulas, the easing of hot flashes, and methods to soothe the aching breast growth of pubescent, pregnant, and transgender women. "Feminine genius" didn't assume that someone who menstruates, miscarries, or goes through menopause will just automatically comprehend what's happening and deal with it in a vacuum. What I took away from these studies was primarily the knowledge of reusable menstrual products, although apparently much more has stayed with me.

I guess I had so thoroughly absorbed this understanding of "feminine genius" that I'd forgotten where I had first heard it. Discovering that the alternative use of the term, put forth by celibate men, excludes the "feminine genius" that I learned in college is sometimes like walking on an alien planet. Where are the cushioned seats for women going through menopause? Where is the outcry against disposable menstrual products that don't biodegrade? Where is the protection of preteen girls, not protection of their "purity," as their bodies change beyond their control?

Anything that proclaims "feminine genius" as a presumption of how all feminine people should be, rather than the realities lived by diverse feminine people, is not something I want a part of.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Pew-fillers and the aftermath of Charlottesville

Since my return to the Catholic Church, I've noticed a large gap between the actively involved parishioners and those who sit in the pew until receiving Communion and then leaving until next Sunday.
Let me be clear. I am aware that many people can't be as involved as they might want to be. Family, career, or health demands get in the way; maybe their parish's ministries and social groups aren't welcoming, or they don't consider themselves skilled enough to participate further (you are!). Some people are active in ways that don't involve the parish proper, whether at home, volunteering, or academically.
It stunned me the first few times parishioners told me "it's great that you're so involved. I don't even listen to the homily, I just come for Communion." Why?! Maybe it just isn't in me to take every part of the Church for granted since I was away for so long. In fact, I took it for granted that everyone there is there because they want to be there 100% - not just to sit in a pew for an hour a week. I'm there largely to make sure that the things that drove me away don't happen to anyone else. It's been struggle for me over the past few months to just let pew-fillers be rather than exhausting myself over attempts to motivate them.

Since the white supremacist "rally" at Charlottesville, many white Catholic bishops, priests, educators, women religious, and activists have spoken out against white supremacy. How much action is behind these words varies, and I'm trying to remain realistically optimistic - pessimism is not a motivator. Complaints from Catholics, generally those who're disillusioned from Catholic institutions altogether, point to the bishops and priests who have gone about business as usual. These passionate Catholics call to mind Rev. Bryan Massingale, Sr. Thea Bowman, Dr. Diana L. Hayes, and the dozens of Black Catholics who have been calling out the Church in America for its inaction and ignorance for decades.
I worry that the division between Catholics who work to dismantle white supremacy, and "business as usual" white Catholics is widening to the point that the latter group will intermingle with racist Catholics. And I wonder if that division lines up at all with the gap between active Catholics and pew-fillers. Ultimately, I worry that the passionate Catholics working to dismantle white supremacy will eventually become so disillusioned that they (we?) will leave altogether. And then who will be left?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Presenting "faith journey" aka existential crisis

Every Sunday from now until January, I'm meeting with a group of Catholic women for personal formation, community discipleship, and event planning.  We will facilitate a women's spiritual retreat after our last meeting.  The dozen of us went through the same retreat last month, facilitated by women who had met together all of last year.

Event planning is well-rehearsed.  Community discipleship is new to me in terms of spirituality, but otherwise not that different from my experiences in other goal-oriented groups.  Alverno College prepared me well for both of these.

The primary way that personal formation is achieved through these meetings is through a half hour presentation, followed by "affirmations" from the rest of the group.  Most of the retreat consisted of these presentations, edited and refined throughout last year's meetings, and then reflections on them both alone and in small groups.  The two leaders of my group, seasoned facilitators, will give their presentations again and then give some light guidance while we dozen prepare our own.
These presentations will focus on each individual's personal "faith journey," how each person got to where we are now.  Guidelines are loose, though based on the presentations at the retreat most of these women speak almost exclusively about their relationships with their parents, their husbands, and their children.

It's only been a day and a half since the first meeting and I've already turned this into a full-on existential crisis!  Go me!  I'm such an overachiever!  I signed up to be one of the first presenters partly so I won't have to think about it for more than a month, and partly + selfishly so I can give a little lesson about good public speaking skills right away (if one more person clicks her tongue after every sentence, I'm going to scream).  The more I think about my journey the more I delve into gender and feminist theory, liberation theology, and nihilism vs. existentialism.  This sums up my progress thusfar ("ppl" = people):

Here is this unusual opportunity to talk about myself openly before a group for a half hour, and... this is very cheesy... if I talk about theory, then who am I?  If my developing plan to speak about my journey consists mostly of concepts that exist outside of me, then what does that say about me?  The debate and contemplation of these ideas will continue after me, the same can't be said about relationships (I wonder how many people identify through their relationships out of a fear of mortality?).  But if I end up impacting these studies through academia, does that reflect on the quality/value of my life?  If I don't, does that imply failure?
It's not that people, places, and events aren't important to me, I just can't imagine filling up more than 15 minutes with talking about only them as a reference to my self.  But these concepts, I could - and do! - go on and on and on.

At the first meeting the other day, each person summarized their personal goal as an individual in the group for the year.  Mine was "be an agent of change."  That tends to be my goal/role in Catholic communities altogether, and it's what I hope to achieve through grad school (next year???).  The retreat highlighted how alone I feel as a whole human being in these communities and I don't expect that to change as long as I aim to facilitate change.  I'm just not certain what it says about me as a whole human being presenting oneself through theory.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Liberation Theology vs Prosperity Theology

Before I delve into the boundaries between the two, I will first briefly define them:

Liberation theology centralizes around oppressed people freeing themselves.  Scripture passages that highlight liberation of the poor and marginalized bolster this movement, namely the story of Jesus Christ as told in the gospels.  Oscar Romero, James H. Cone, and Diana L. Hayes are among the most prominent names in liberation theology.  South American and Black religious communities are the strongest proponents of liberation theology, interweaving womanism (black women prioritizing the equality of black women among both race and gender lines) and mujeristas (Latinas working to liberate both the poor and oppressed in their culture, as well as their culture overall against colonial influences).

Prosperity theology prioritizes the embracing of God-given gifts, namely material gifts.  The idea is that God has given the faithful these gifts, and it would be ungrateful to give away those gifts - charity, according to prosperity theology, is against God's will.  There are communities, though, who do emphasize giving in order to receive, but the giving is almost exclusively to leaders who are already wealthy.  Joel Osteen is the most famous proponent, and he is in good company with Southern charismatic churches and other televangelists.  Almost all of these are white, with almost no references to any of the gospels.

I am by no means the first person to connect the Trump administration and its supporters to prosperity theology (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).  "Make America Great Again" has never included greatness for anyone who benefits from liberation theology - the declaration of making Mexico pay for a wall dividing the nation from the United States makes this clear, among many other points.

Although I may prioritize the liberation of oppressed people, especially in the face of the oncoming administration, it is not about me.  After all, it is because of my platform as an able-bodied white person that I can put forward liberation theology with reasonable expectation of being received by other able-boded white people.  It is up to me to use the benefits I systemically receive from prosperity theologians, now that they are coming into their greatest political power yet, to work towards this liberation while also understanding that it is from these systems, including my role in them, that oppressed people must be liberated.  It is up to me to keep in mind these intersections while also understanding that I, no matter how hard I work, am not separate from the ivory tower that is prosperity theology.
Diana L. Hayes described it better than I could.  In her connection between womanism and liberation theology, she said that it would be logically inconsistent for her to work with feminists (see: white) because it is from us (see: white) that she must be liberated.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Millennials leaving religion

I was just listening to the "Keep the Church Weird" lecture by Rachel Held Evans and it was like lightening struck.

Rachel Held Evans says what I've been saying for years: evangelizing to millennials does not work because we have learned to avoid anything that seems to be an advertisement. Advertising is cheap and shallow, the exact opposite of what spirituality and religion should be. And I've not been the only person who's been saying this, Kaya Oakes made similar points in her book "The Nones Are Alright." Those who say they are "spiritual but not religious" leave many parts of mainstream religion behind including the contemporary commercialism, and this departure is largest among millennials.

Think of how mainstream American culture treated millennials in the late 90's, when we were in middle school. The Spice Girls, N SYNC, the Backstreet Boys, Tiger Beat magazine, claire's, etc. Because the young adults at that time had both expendable income and a modicum of autonomy unseen in previous generations, we were targeted in advertising unlike ever before. This was also when "NeoWicca" became popular among young adults, and became increasingly commercial. Perhaps the Spice Girls are the best example of how extremely millennials were marketed to; the idea of a commercial girl group was formed in order to compete in pop music, and then women auditioned to fill those roles (source). Advertising became more obvious as well, with the celebrities most popular among young millennials blatantly flaunting their sponsors' logos. The film Josie & the Pussycats highlighted this in a tongue-in-cheek manner. All of this advertising worked well when we were 10-15. I argue that the trend of wearing things "ironically" in the late 00's was a way of maturing out of that. "I got this Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt out of a dumpster, I'm wearing it ironically." The idea of actually supporting popular brands was so odious that millennial hipsters made it blatantly obvious that wearing those brands was a joke. And if you were not in on the joke, that meant you were a sell-out.
So what does this mean for the religious bodies so desperate to bring the millennials back to their churches? The techniques that worked so well for big name brands in the late 90's worked then, but not now. The techniques that existed ("worked" is an inappropriate term for a social trend that denied efficiency) ten years ago won't work now. Frankly I don't know what will bring millennials back to the churches. But working harder at enticing us back than at sincere service to the poor is certainly not the way to do it.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Journaling

A good friend is trying to expand her journaling but doesn’t know where to start.  People keep telling her “do whatever you want” but that isn’t concrete enough.  I’ve been journaling since ‘99 so I put together a little presentation of all the stuff I’ve done.  To begin with, when I say “journal” as a noun what I mean is a blank book that a person fills over time with personal information.  A diary is a journal that’s either mostly or all words, a verbal personal narrative.  A sketchbook is a journal that’s either mostly or all art, a nonverbal personal narrative.  A journal is a blend of these.

1:

My first journal was purely diary.  Lined paper with words written in either pen or pencil.  This was the book that lasted me the longest, 4 years while the rest last 3-9 months.  I was a very angry teenager and while most of the entries are about mundane events, like visiting my dad or something my school bullies said, it’s almost all just emotional ranting.  Intentionally bad spelling, swearing as I was oh-so-rebellious in these pages, violent ideation.














If there was a fire or something and I could save only one journal, it would probably be this one - the one when I started polyamory is a close second though since I so obviously began opening up and being honest with myself.  But when I think about being the adult that Child Me needed, Child Me lives in this diary.










2:

The first few years of journaling, I tried to have several different journals for different purposes.  Part 1 of this series was my diary for writing events and feelings.  There were also a dream diary, a Book of Shadows, and a poetry book - none of which i still have, sadly.  The barely-used dream diary and Book of Shadows became regular journals, I just never got into the habit of writing in those for their original purposes.  In high school I had a sketchbook:














I had this idea that my drawings would someday be framed into gallery-quality art, so I was very stingy with the paper.  This is by far the biggest book out of all my journals, and yet it has the most empty space.  Out of my 35(!!!) completed journals, I have very few regrets and not filling pages is probably my #1.  










3:

 Throughout late high school and college I gradually combined diary + sketchbook + dream diary + Book of Shadows into just one book at a time.  Having several different kinds of journals going concurrently just doesn’t work for me.  

























I was still using small novelty notebooks, some lined some not, and they’re very word-centric - my art usually ended up being used for classwork, and I wasn’t about to hand in my personal writing.  Most of what I wrote about was relationships, my poopy high school boyfriend and then my girlfriends.  Part of me wishes that I had written more about other things, but these are evidence of how brainwashed I’d been that longterm monogamous relationships = success.













4:



Finally I got into my journaling stride.  Unlined art notebooks, words mixed with art mixed with collage.  Lots of STUFF and every page is full.  When I think of “journal” this is what comes to mind.


















I finally began writing about a great variety of things: relationships, travel, nostalgia, emotions, shadow work, goals, spirituality, books, dreams, frustrations, museums, etc.  These journals are much more whole and they reveal ongoing patterns to do with as I wish.















5:

 Despite finding my journaling comfort zone, right now I’m going off in a different direction.  I’ve had this hardcover book since college and I fucking hate it, it was part of a Sociology project about same-sex marriage and it’s such a horrible homophobic book of bad analysis.  I didn’t want the book anymore and I didn’t want it in the world for other people to read, so I gesso-ed (thick white acrylic paint) the pages and began using it as a journal.












Forgive the syrupy metaphor, but I think it’s a good representation of my journaling experience.  The base is crummy, but I’m using it to grow and heal.  And the fact that I’m starting this unusual journal while looking over my past ones makes me more self-aware as I write/paint/collage.  The entries that stand out most in my memory, without even needing to go back over them, are the ones written with the awareness that Future Me will look back on them.I’ve never had much interest in writing prompts as I was already so comfortable with my journaling habits.  But since this book already has me outside of my comfort zone, I might start doing some?  Whoa I’m kinda blowing my own mind right now






Honorary Mentions:







 Starting last summer, I got into a different kind of book art.  While my journals/diaries/sketchbooks feel like an ongoing process over time, these feel like book books.  They sit on shelves with other books (though my journals might soon move onto shelves just because cardboard boxes aren’t working anymore) and I want other people to look at them.  
First is Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, which I painted and collaged last summer.  This is one of my favorite books and having it on plain paper just didn’t seem right.

And starting this summer has been my prayer/meditation book.  This was another crummy book that I didn’t want but also didn’t want in the world, so I’ve been covering the pages with acrylic paint and collage.  The artwork and quotes are for quiet meditation and there are still about 100 blank pages to fill












Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Gendered Marketing in Religion

The rise in both gendered marketing and the outcry against it has largely been secular.  Soap, deodorant, shampoo, yogurt, shaving razors, pens, earplugs - these are just a handful of items that have been needlessly gendered solely to bump up sales.  Men's products are in dark packaging with hard lines and a sense of adventure, whether through sports or references to battle or problem-solving.  Women's products, which tend to be more expensive, are in pink or purple packaging with soft lines and a sense of delicacy.  While women have been purchasing more of the men's products largely because they are cheaper, men very rarely purchase the women's products partly because they're more expensive and partly because they're emasculating.

     Gendered marketing has spilled over into religious products, namely teen Bibles and rosaries.  Faith & Family Reviews posted a brief review of the "faiTHGirLz! Bible" and the "NIV Boys Bible" commending the gendered marketing.  The "faiTHGirLz!" Bible has a "dream girl" section.  Faith & Family Reviews compliments the boy's Bible's "manly" appeal to boys by having a cover resembling metal.  The girl's Bible has sections focusing on difficult emotions, the boy's Bible has sections focusing on strength.
     Other Bibles marketed to teen girls are also pink with flowers, birds, and repeatedly the phrase "faith, hope, and love" (1, 2, 3, 4).  These four, as well as the one reviewed by Faith & Family Reviews, all have profiles of women in the Bible - a topic that usually goes unnoticed outside of Eve and the Virgin Mary. Christianbook.com also offers dozens of similar Bibles for teen girls.
     The same Bibles marketed to teen boys bear darker covers and bold but simple graphics.  Their descriptions are more focused on action in "the real world" rather than on personal development (1, 2, 3, 4).  None of them mention women of the Bible - perhaps the creators of these gendered Bibles assume boys don't need to know about them?  Christianbook.com's Bibles for teen boys resemble footballs and soccer balls, bear army camouflage, and repeatedly declare "man up."
     These Bibles prioritize very differently for boys and girls.  Where's the adventure for girls?  Where's the emotional depth for boys?  Why apply such commercialism to Bibles, especially the sports references?  And how could anyone stand to read Galatians 3:28 in a gendered Bible?

And this gendered marketing in religion extends to Catholic rosaries as well.  Men's rosaries almost always have larger, matte beads - black, blue, brown, dark red - with thick dark wire.  Descriptors often include "strength," "durability," "heroic," and "powerful" (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).  Catholic online shops offer dozens of men's rosaries that all look remarkably the same (1, 2, 3).
     Women's rosaries, on the other hand, come in a wide variety of colors and flourishes (1, 2).  Pearls and svaroski crystals are very common.  Men's single-decade rosary bracelets are shown on the wrists of models with no other part of the body visible (1), while women's rosaries are often pictured with cleavage, shoulders, necks, hair, and lips (1).  Descriptors are almost exclusively focused on the beauty of women's rosaries (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
    While there is certainly nothing wrong with having personalized rosaries, the gendered division goes against the very universality of both the rosary itself and of Catholicism.  Do men and women really pray the rosary so differently that they require such different styles with explicitly different priorities?

Gendered marketing extends beyond Christianity.  Jewelry and apparel for Pagan men and women is similarly divided.  Pagan women's jewelry tends to be smaller, more delicate, more graceful, and more colorful (1, 2) black velvet chokers are very common.  Pagan men's jewelry is thicker, darker, bolder (1, 2).  Additionally, Pagan apparel is very distinctively gendered.  Men's clothing tends to be baggier, covers more, and has large bold designs (1, 2) most of these are black, grey, or white t-shirts.  Pagan women's clothing has a much wider variety that involves more colors, shows more skin, and bears more delicate or "cute" designs (1, 2).  While all of these statements could be made about men and women's apparel/jewelry in general, gendered marketing seems contradictory and perhaps even hypocritical in a community that so often complains of "patriarchy" in Christian practices.

What does gendered marketing say about contemporary religion?  In terms of Matthew 22:21, is the commercialism of these gendered Bibles and rosaries Caesar's or God's?  What does it mean when Pagans critique the complementarianism of Christianity but then duplicate the same themselves?