Feminism & Womanism

Notes on Survival & Advocacy: Reflections from the Goose

It’s been quite a while, and I’m so grateful ya’ll are still rocking with me! This post will feel more like a stream of consciousness for a LOT of different reasons. So, it’s important for me to be up front about at least one of them in the beginning.

America’s history of White Supremacy is still snuffing out Black Lives and the lives of People of Color in this state.

I was preparing to co-facilitate a session on Re-Encountering Beliefs & Forging New Faith Identities at the Wild Goose Festival when I heard the news about the state sanctioned murder of Alton Sterling. (Pause. Collecting breath. Breathing deeper). While I was there, the news about the murder of Philando Castile broke. I was out in a mountain town, in the woods of Hot Springs, NC, which meant I had limited wifi and could not see the videos. Yet, the grief that I felt… that most POC (people of color) felt… at yet another life killed, brutalized, and terrorized by White supremacy was overwhelming, consuming. (Pause). Grief, disappointment, anger, and pain hummed as both an internal monologue and as a community dialogue in the midst of the teaching we had to do, the life we had to live, and the outpour of ideas & stories about faith, spirituality, & justice.

“People of color see spirits where others don’t”. 

I said these words friend as I walked through the beautiful landscape of Hot Springs. It was quiet and night was falling. I sat between peace and grief. Peace at the comfort that nature often brings. Grief that this land was stolen from Indigenous Peoples; that their stories have been misconstrued and the names of their landmarks fundamentally changed. Grief that these trees had likely marked sites of death for Black bodies. Grief that I would go home to the streets where blood was still crying out. Spirits.

I usually have to do some type of small ritual when I’m entering a new space, and Hot Springs, NC was no different. Although I grieved, the space also felt sacred, holy, blessed. (I don’t think that was a coincidence as there were so many ministers, shamans, contemplatives, and healers there). I needed to learn how to decolonize this space in my mind, so I focused my intentions on doing that when I arrived on the first night. In this tension between grief, struggle, and enlightenment, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about inward (and outward) survival and the conditions necessary for life in the times of death. So, I’ll share as much as I can remember and articulate.

Goose

Notes on Survival

  1. Feeding the Body. Engaging the Body.
    There are so many great resources circulating about both self care AND direct action for people of color and accomplices who are doing the work of justice during this time. Yet, one of the things that I have yet to see is a gentle reminder to feed your body. (This is not to say that it doesn’t exist… I’ve just not seen it yet). Wild Goose Festival held a LOT to see, do, talk about, respond to. As an extrovert, my first instinct was to immerse myself in the talking & doing pieces. However, there was a gentle nudge to sit with my schedule and prioritize feeding my body as a non-negotiable, for as much as I was able / had the resources to.

    Like many, I work in the 9-5 hours. Then, I go home and work in the evening hours on other projects. On the weekends, I’m off supporting a friend or trying to take time to do all-of-the-things. So, oftentimes, feeding my body is an after-thought or completely neglected altogether.

    I have a very interesting relationship with my body, as I live with chronic illness. Yet, I gained a very real physical balance once I committed to feeding my body and REALLY listening to what it wanted / what it was telling me. If it was time to eat, I ate. If my body felt like it needed to be engaged in a walk (despite chronic pain in my feet), I did what I could to engage it in that way (stretches, medicine, and loving touches to the areas I felt the most pain). Engaging with my body in this way felt very radical to me for two reasons. The first is that it gave me a moment to de-compress from the effects of capitalism on the body, which scholar, Johanna Hedva (love. her.) talks about in her work with the Sick Woman Theory (2015):

    Sick Woman Theory maintains that the body and mind are sensitive and reactive to regimes of oppression – particularly our current regime of neoliberal, white-supremacist, imperial-capitalist, cis-hetero-patriarchy. It is that all of our bodies and minds carry the historical trauma of this, that it is the world itself that is making and keeping us sick.

    The construct of capitalism-over-personalism means that often times, we see our bodies as “good” when they are able to produce at high levels, at all times. This, I believe, is what makes us skip meals, work past times of work, and push our bodies to dangerous spaces for the god of productivity. This, I believe, is what makes practices such as touching our bodies lovingly seem superfluous and unnecessary.

    The second reason why this was so powerful as a survival strategy hearkens back to Baby Suggs’ sermon in The Clearing, written by Toni Morrison (Beloved, 1987):

    “Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh.

    With this passage, Toni Morrison goes on to articulate the effects that racism has on our bodies. You need only look at the news to see how racism kills the physical flesh either immediately or chronically (through healthcare discrimination, chronic anxiety and trauma). Thus, our intentional choice to feeding the body, take it for walks (if possible), stretch it, and listen to what it needs are powerful practices of love and survival. Being in the physical space of the Wild Goose Festival this year really drove this lesson home for me.

    Death_to_stock_photography_Vibrant(6 of 10)

    Image credit: Createherstock.com

  2. Feed Your Soul
    One of the things that I appreciated the most about Wild Goose was that it gave so many opportunities for us to feed our souls. There were sessions on all types of topics: justice, spirituality, theology, etc. There were prayers offered throughout the day and a station for spiritual direction. There was engagement with nature – water, earth, trails, hills. Yet, I found that my soul felt the most “fed” in brilliant conversations with new friends and in the times I purposefully spent alone, reflecting or walking. [Sitting in silence was hella uncomfortable at first, but I learned to appreciate it]. There are a great deal of resources on caring for your body and soul, so I’ll offer just a few of my favorites here.

Black Bodies Need Love Too: 7 Resources for Self Care, Amani Ariel, 2015
8 Basics of Self Care, Nicole Jhanrea, She Blooms Black
Caring for Ourselves as Political Warfare, Adrienne Marie Brown, Adaku Utah, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Susan Raffo

Notes on Advocacy & Action

  1. Speak. 
    Before co-facilitating the session and doing the work that I was there to do, I needed to re-read Audre Lorde’s words in Sister Outsider.

     “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?”

    This is a passage I come back to over and over again. One of the things I wanted to talk about at the festival was honoring the spiritual practices that the Black church taught me that help me to thrive, daily. Yet, I also wanted to talk about what it felt like to move away from strict, literalist, non-inclusive theologies & practices as well. That was what that particular moment called for.

    This particular moment in the blog-o-sphere calls me to speak on what helps me to survive and to do advocacy, in the hopes that this provides helpful frameworks for others. The more you challenge yourself to speak, the more you push back against those voices that silence you (internally and externally). This is not a new concept, it’s simply one that at least I need to be reminded of very often.

  2. Reflect on the space of advocacy that you can contribute to.
    Two of my favorite recent pieces of writing have been ’26 Ways to be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets’ (Anderson, et al; it’s brilliant) and Candice Simpson’s ‘We All Have Work to Do in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement’. Seriously… read those. 

    One of the things that has been so disheartening is language that suggests that we all need to have our physical bodies on the streets. This is something that has really been hurtful as someone who would love to be on the streets, yet has chronic illnesses that make that pretty difficult to do. So, while appreciating and supporting the essential work that people are doing in the streets, I’ve also had to find what advocacy looks like for me – in relationship to what is going on elsewhere. Two of the things that I’ve found powerful are 1) holding safe spaces for people of color (in my case, this happens most often digitally), and 2) sharing our thoughts / stories and adding my own thoughts / stories when appropriate.As a writer and someone trained in Theater, I understand the deep impact that stories have. One of my favorite African proverbs is, “Until the lion has (their) own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story”. The intellectual and artistic work that we do to create, reframe, reinterpret, and even critique stories is SO important. To be clear, these stories do not have to be shared to PROVE our worth. These stories have to be shared, written, reflected upon because they hold our collective and community wisdoms. These are the things we’re talking about, reflecting upon, critiquing and improving. Advocacy, for me, includes sharing the writing, the art, the scholarly work, the notes, etc. of people of color because it amplifies our voices in a general context but it also provides spaces of mirroring, recognition, and wisdom. (I found it very serendipitous that the theme of the Wild Goose Festival this year was Story, as I began to think about what advocacy looked like for me). Sharing the stories of others also checks the ego. It’s important to actively remember that liberation requires the contributions of many people. It’s not just your work that needs to be centered, because your work doesn’t hold all of the collective wisdom.

C26

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Reflections from the Goose:
These days, I’m honing in on practicing gratitude in the midst of grief. So, I want to end by saying, ‘Thank You’. For those of you who contributed financial resources to ‘Get Me to the Goose’, thank you. The session went well and I hoped to have made you proud of your investment in me. Thank you to all of the speakers, storytellers, musicians, mystics, and contributors who gave of their time and their expertise. Thank you to the people of color who held space while we collectively grieved and planned. Thank you to the allies who stood at the perimeter to make sure the space was uninterrupted. Thank you to the Mystic Action Camp, who allowed me to share a creative, magical, and healing lodging space with them. Thank you to those who invited me to speak. And finally, thank you, readers. Ya’ll are the realest and the trillest.

Image Credit, Createherstock.com

On Benevolent Sexism & Purity PR

Brelyn Bowman, daughter of pastors Michael & Dee Dee Freeman, was recently married to her sweetheart, Tim Bowman. What makes this story noteworthy is not only their status as big names in particularly the DMV Evangelical Christian circles, but is also the fact that on their wedding day, Brelyn Bowman presented an OBGYN approved certificate of purity to her father, Pastor Michael Bowman.

Brelyn Bowman first took a covenant of purity given to her by her father which included strict discouragements from intercourse, rubbing, petting, etc. at age 13. A few days after the wedding, which featured high profile guests on the Evangelical Christian scene, Mike Freeman Ministries posted the picture that has been rotating through my timeline non-stop, since yesterday. It depicts a father and his daughter, both beaming, and holding the Certificate of Her Purity which states that her hymen was completely in tact.

My response comes with the full understanding that up to this point, Brelyn Bowman’s sexuality has been both physically and emotionally scrutinized. To be clear, the purpose of this post is not to scrutinize her or her personal decisions even further.  Brelyn Bowman’s decision to remain abstinent prior to marriage is something that is her choice to make and hers alone. A woman’s sexual ethic is hers to decide. However, understanding purity culture in Evangelical spaces begs us to dig a bit deeper. And as such, stories like these hearken back to a few deeper themes that can be problematic:

  • patriarchy & the church (including the policing of women’s bodies)
  • the PR that is attached to women’s sexual choices and bodies

1) Benevolent Sexism & The Body
In many Christian Evangelical churches, the policing of women’s bodies is normalized and spiritualized as ‘God’s design’. In the case of the Bowmans, Pastor Michael Freeman posted the picture of the certificate with the caption:

Who knew that a pic like this would get so much negativity but a natural man will not understand things of the Spirit for they are foolishness to them!!! ‪#‎meetthebowmans‬‪#‎readyourbible‬‪#‎prayingforyou‬

Supporters chimed in via social media sites stating how they might want their daughters to do the exact same thing. And herein lies the opportunity to  discuss benevolent sexism. Glick et al (2000) defines benevolent sexism as “a subjectively positive orientation of protection, idealization, and affection directed toward women that, like hostile sexism, serves to justify women’s subordinate status to men (p. 763)”.

Let’s break this down a bit given what I’ve emphasized above. Again, the thing about this type of sexism is that it’s “subjectively positive”; it’s coded in language that sounds good to the ear. You might hear this type of rhetoric in sacred spaces that espouse that it’s God’s design for women to be led by men… in order to PROTECT the women. The first element of benevolent sexism is the element of protection: protection of women’s assumed fragility, purity, and sanctity. Online news sources allude to Brelyn’s promise of virginity to her father at thirteen years of age. Given the Evangelical line of thought that the father protects & provides for the family (trust me on this… you can analyze these things when you’ve gotten some distance from those spaces), this sort of covenant / contract / promise might sit squarely under the guise of a father’s protection of a daughter’s purity.

The second element of benevolent sexism is the element of idealization. Each post and picture sets up the idealization of the docile, virginal, “pure” body. The comment sections are filled with statements about incorporating these practices and tools into women’s Bible studies and girl’s groups. What might be causing this? Scholar, Rose Weitz, talks about institutions thriving on the use and subordination of women’s bodies as docile, in order to ensure that these spheres can continue to be male-dominated (2001). Even if this was not the intention, we cannot rule that out as a possible output. We might consider that her partner had no such procedures done (nor did this seem to be an expectation, given the couples’ wedding video). We might also consider the fact that the very act of remaining pure was not credited to Brelyn and her partner, on paper. It was acknowledged and credited to the patriarch, on the tangible certificate. Regardless of the intent, it’s important to consider Brelyn’s bodily and sexual choices were put under what many Evangelical spaces would call ‘a covenant’ at the age of 13. As an adult, it was then her choice to verify and prove that those terms were fulfilled. However, the final certificate was presented to the patriarch. And it’s worth it to sit with that & to think about the implications for other families that will follow these steps. For women & girls, we have to ask ‘Do these particular forms of ‘protection and idealization’ of purity and chastity (when used as a means for celebrating a marriage vow to one man & a covenant promise to another man) serve to ‘justifiy women’s subordinate status to men’? And if the answer is yes, is this something we want to perpetuate within our sacred spaces?

2) When Purity Becomes PR The purity business is a thriving one: there have been books, seminars, Bible study materials, and families that have spent thousands at jewelers for purity rings in every shape & style. The messages of ‘remaining pure’ that are particularly geared towards women are really nothing new. In this particular case, pastors reached out for press coverage of Brelyn Bowman’s story in order for it to go viral.

If you know anyone in TV, radio or any major blogger that would be interested in Brelyn’s story have them contact us – that way, we can get this message of purity out to our young people!

Posted by Dee Dee Freeman on Monday, October 19, 2015

Again, the decision to wait is to be commended, as it is uniquely her choice to make. However, with media stints on Bossip, Media Takeout, and more, the question then becomes… what makes purity PR so appealing? When did the sanctity of a couple’s sexuality & sexual choices (be they abstinence, celibacy, or intercourse) become fodder for the media? Because while this is an interesting piece to write on a fascinating story, there is one, final, remaining question… why is this something that we all know about… to even write about?

Resources:
Tannenbaum, M. (2013)The problem when sexism sounds so darn friendly. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/psysociety/benevolent-sexism/

Glick, P., Fiske, S., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J., Abrams, D., Masser, B., Adetoun, B., Osagie, J., Akande, A., Alao, A., Annetje, B., Willemsen, T., Chipeta, K., Dardenne, B., Dijksterhuis, A., Wigboldus, D., Eckes, T., Six-Materna, I., Expósito, F., Moya, M., Foddy, M., Kim, H., Lameiras, M., Sotelo, M., Mucchi-Faina, A., Romani, M., Sakalli, N., Udegbe, B., Yamamoto, M., Ui, M., Ferreira, M., & López, W. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79 (5), 763-775 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.79.5.763

WEITZ, R. (10/2001).“WOMEN AND THEIR HAIR: Seeking Power through Resistance and Accommodation”. Gender & society (0891-2432), 15 (5), p. 667 – 686.

The Tightness in My Chest – Reflections on #NoShameDay

Her office always seemed too still, but I liked driving up the mountain, so I kept going. It was the second year of my M.Ed program, and I was having a very hard time sleeping. In reality, I’d been having trouble sleeping for about two years prior.  But I only paid attention when I began to have headaches, digestive troubles, and other physical symptoms. Mostly, I thought it was just because of my circumstances at the time.

“I’m…uhm… having a hard time sleeping, but it’s most likely because of my recent breakup”
“I’m not sure it’s just the breakup…”

I always wore brightly colored lipstick when I went to her office and made sure to go right after work, in business casual dress. [Lest she think I didn’t have my ish together]. I always came prepared with a planner, a notebook, and a few pens (in case one ran out).

“And when you wake up each morning, how anxious have you been feeling, on a scale from 1 to 10”
“About a 4… or a 5”
“The moment that you wake up?”
“Yes”.

Yesterday, Bassey Ikpi (@Basseyworld) & The Siwe project moderated a conversation via the hashtag ‪#‎NoShameDay‬ to “help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health illness”. When I began to read the posts, I was immediately prompted to reflect on my own journey with mental health and wellness. For quite some time, I’ve encouraged others to let go of the stigma of mental health illness, all while remaining relatively quiet about my own journey. That ended yesterday, as I made the conscious choice to participate in #NoShameDay.

Before then, I’d been quite afraid of something I didn’t have words for… until I stumbled upon this definition from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Santa Clara County:

Participating in #NoShameDay meant being vulnerable in a way that I hadn’t been before… with both the risk of double stigma AND the healing experience of speaking my truth & sharing my story.

Participating in #NoShameDay caused me to remember those early days of trying to figure out what was going on with my mood by talking with spiritual directors & leaders. Their simple admonishments to  “Have more faith…” almost always sent me into further panic. How could I have more faith than I already had? Was I missing something? Why was my level of faith insufficient… and HOW, exactly, where they even measuring this?!

After experiencing that scenario more times than I could count, I knew I needed to take a different route.
“Experiencing anxiety at level 5, first thing in the morning, is pretty intense. How long has this been going on?”
“Honestly Dr. S* I think an easier question might be, How long hasn’t it been going on?”
The trouble was that consistently ruminating over what might go wrong made me pretty effective. I was five steps ahead because this old brain of mine had already gone through the 15 scenarios that might happen when… if… and where…
I was achieving great things. And I was also losing sleep, having nightmares, tension headaches, digestive upsets, dizzy spells, and shortness of breath. I legitimately did NOT want to entertain that this was anything more than just a passing phase. So, once the counselor began talking in terms of general anxiety disorder, I stopped taking the drive up the mountain.
A year later, the shortness of breath & tightness in my chest seemed like it was not going away. I’d gone from about a level 5 (upon waking) to a level 8, and I was always fatigued. I went to a family doctor. The first sign of why I’d been feeling so fatigued was a deficiency in iron. However, as time went on, the family doctor began asking deeper questions – questions that would get to the root of those physical symptoms. Eventually, we circled back around to anxiety: the anxiety attached to maintaining my composure in an intensely microaggressive situation.

“So how do you want to do this?”

It took me a long time to answer that question. It was loaded. It would mean that there was something there that I needed to address: double stigma or not. I let out a deep breath and it seemed Dr. W* sensed my apprehension.

“Okay, so how about we keep it simple. Try very simple things first, and then we’ll reassess later: drink water, spend time with people who love you, get enough rest, actually take your vacation time, and take this pamphlet on deep breathing”.
It was honestly the best advice that I’d received at that time. That year, I told my friends and family:
“But you don’t seem nervous or sad at all!”
“Nervousness is not necessarily the same thing… Anxiety, is hard to explain. It’s the feeling that something unfortunate is coming. It’s working out the answers to the problems you don’t know you have yet… and may not ever have. It’s checks and balances – it’s tension”.
I didn’t really understand why that was so hard for me to come to grips with it [AND for people close to me to even consider it was a real experience] until I read on a piece on ForHarriet.com about Black Women, Mental Health… & the Superwoman Myth. In it, author Anna Gipson references Dr. Brenda Wade’s work along with the myths & misconception that Black women must be strong (at all times, in all circumstances). Yet it is this misconception that can prove to be such a hindrance to our self care process.
About a year ago, I started the practices of meditation and art therapy. I learned deep breathing techniques and I taught them to my partner, as well, so that I’d have a reminder in case I was having a less-than-ideal-day. I learned that following the musical movements of Bobby McFerrin’s VOCAbuLarieS gives an anxious & ruminating mind something constructive & beautiful to do. There are still hard days, and there’s no guarantees that it will ever subside. However, it has made me more mindful – of myself, of others, and of the present moment that I am inhabiting.

After a four year journey, I’m still unlearning the stigma. I’m learning to forgive myself for the things I didn’t know when the tightness in my chest began. I’m learning how to advocate for myself unapologetically. I’m learning that I don’t have to fix everything. I’m learning and affirming that anxiety is not who I am. I’m learning to take my vacation time. And I’m learning to drink more water. 🙂
*Image Credit: Deathtothestockphoto.com, Daily Inspiration Collection

Pants in the Pew: The One-Sided Labor of Modesty

KJ* was an emerging stylist and fashion consultant. We attended the same nondenominational church, sang alto on the worship team together, and frequently used the “green room” to swap information about the best places to thrift and makeup tips to get through multiple services without sweating it all off. (Listen… the ‘singing 2-3 services’ struggle gets real). On one particular morning, I remember her bursting into the green room, pulling me to the side, and crying, “I am LIVID! I was essentially told by the worship team leader that I needed to go home and change into something more modest”. (She was wearing a black top with black pants. KJ and I had both gone through drastic weight changes that year and were striving to dress for our ‘new bodies’ in ways that were comfortable, practical, and fierce). For about 30 minutes, we talked over what she’d planned to do. “I am always so careful to dress for the occasion… and to say that I’m dressed inappropriately because my shirt is tighter than you think it should be is incredibly annoying!” (I will admit that I muttered under my breath, ‘And incredibly sexist’). In an earlier Pants in the Pew / Pulpit post, I talked about my mother’s choice to use her body and style politics as a site of resistance: resistance to being regarded as inferior and in need of more feminization (Weitz, 2011). In KJ’s story, there was yet another struggle: a struggle to resist her body being sexualized and objectified in a sacred space. The script on what women should and should not wear in sacred spaces is not necessarily a new one. In my lived experience, there is one such “script” that has been used to instruct women on what to wear, particularly in sacred spaces:

1 Timothy 2:9-10 Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works

Often times, those who are using this text to hold sway over the clothing choices of women in sacred spaces do not offer any context, sociocultural & historical background – a picture of the climate in those times – to explain their use of the text today. Let me be clear: I have heard, seen, and deeply appreciate the theologians who choose to add nuance to texts such as this (i.e. understanding the damages of heteropatriarchy, preaching / teaching with sensitivity to the fact that these damages are real and impact women on a very systemic and individual levels, balancing it with sociohistorical context). Yet, I also acknowledge that on the whole, we have a long way to go, and asking congregants & church leadership to complicate theology with sociopolitical understandings or critical gender theories… does not always go over too well. So, in the past weeks alone, the script has been under continuous revision. I have seen a revision as entertainers advise women to dress a certain way to obtain a certain man (the counter-post on this by Anna Gibson is absolutely everything)! I can recount the times I’ve sat through retreats or workshops on dating, and hearing a wide array of content on how to dress for and / or keep dressing for a man as a partner in my life (interestingly enough, we did not cover issues of consent, emotionally healthy practices versus emotionally abusive /coercive practices, etc).

The script has been revised in the fair share of cautious admonishments for women to maintain their modesty as the summer months are coming up (argument: more heat = less clothes = ‘modesty compromised’). I can say that each year, around the summer time, the “What Not to Wear (for Women in Sacred Spaces)” revisions roll over and over in my screen, in church services, and in conversation. I cannot help but wonder: What is this obsession that we have with what women are wearing?!  

What many do not understand is that no conversation is without a framework. Think of it as a portrait or a painting. While we focus on the pictures of what women should and should not wear… we might be missing the frame of what we are implying: that women’s bodies are (foremost) sites of dangerous and enticing sexuality…distracting… and in need of guardianship & rules. Dr. Rose Weitz (2001) asserts in her study that “For millennia, women’s subordinate position has been justified by an ideology that labeled their bodies and brains as inferior (Weitz 1998) and has been reinforced by a unique set of disciplinary practices aimed at creating a submissive and “feminine” body…” p. 668. *emphasis mine

So, what might those disciplinary practices look like in sacred spaces? In so many of my memories, they have looked like KJ’s story: being ostracized and asked to ‘sit down’ because of clothing choices. In one such sacred space, I was told that women were not allowed to wear heels in the pulpit because “It was distracting to the men”. This meant that when they were in that space, they had to wear flats or go with bare feet. In another, women were instructed to always wear scarves over their laps, regardless of length, so that they “would not distract the imagination of the men”. You might also remember the public shaming of Christian entertainer, Erica Campbell of Mary Mary, for choosing a dress that hugged her curves.

From the time that I was 13, I began negotiating my style politics due to the natural changes that were occurring in my body. Sundays were often the most difficult days because I did not know what would be deemed as ‘modest’ or ‘immodest’. At one point, it was immodest to wear heavy makeup or earrings. At another point, it was immodest to wear a certain length of skirt. As time went on, it took longer and longer to simply get dressed to worship:  a V neck or no V neck because… boobs? A tulle skirt or no tulle skirt because… curves? If I decided wrong, the disciplinary practices of ‘being sat down’, covered up, or publicly shamed (in churchyterms they’d say ‘admonished’ and / or rebuked’) loomed over my head.

These disciplinary practices, in sacred spaces, don’t always look like disciplinary practices because they might also be hidden and enforced under a) the guise of rigid definitions of what Biblical womanhood is (i.e. all Biblical women wear / look like ____) and / or b) the concept of wisdom (i.e. Yes, you can wear whatever you want… but is it WISE if you know you will gain unwarranted attention). Instead of thinking critically about the question, ‘What makes it possible and / or ‘the norm’ for women to have to dress a certain way to be acknowledged as inherently worthy and multidimensional’there seemed to be more of an overall preference for conversation on which styles, cuts, and fabrics are most distracting (insert subtext: for those who identify as men in sacred spaces). Writer, Jessica Valenti explains it like this:  “This “distraction” standard for a dress code (for women) sets up a model in which the default student (person / congregant) we are concerned about – the student (person / congregant) whose learning we want to ensure is protected – is male”. The labor of modesty is very often a one-sided labor.

In an earlier post, I explained that my mother’s decision to wear pants in the pulpit, inevitably sent a message of resistance. Why? Because for so long the bodies of women have been sites of resistance of and / or conformity to patriarchal norms (Weitz, 2001). KJ decided to go home and change that day. I wanted her to stay and sing worship exactly the way that she came. But I also know that navigating style politics in sacred spaces can be incredibly murky and sometimes. Yet, I always wished that there was more that I could do for KJ. I wished I knew what to say, in the moment, for the women who told me they had to sing praise and worship with bare feet because their pastor said heels were too sexual.

I thought about all of the younger women I know who stress over what to wear each time they go to worship. It is then that I remember the two-fold mission behind this site and my writing: 1) to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion… and that INCLUDES making space for women’s voices, women’s stories, women’s leadership AND women’s style politics in sacred spaces.

Want to hear more on the subject? READ PT. I here.

Image Credit: DeathtoStockphoto.com, Retreat Collection Resources WEITZ, R. (10/2001). “WOMEN AND THEIR HAIR: Seeking Power through Resistance and Accommodation”. Gender & society (0891-2432), 15 (5), p. 667 – 686. Creative Commons License Pants in the Pew: The One Sided Labor of Modesty by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 P.S. Not even 24 hours after writing this post, WordPress’ Daily Post prompt asked writers to:… “ tell (them) how appearance impacts how you feel about yourself”. Ha! Serendipity 🙂

A Womanist Album Review: Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show

I’m crafting up some fresh new blog posts for you all & can’t wait to share them! As you know, a part of my mission is:

  • To encourage, inspire, & empower readers to thrive in spite of systems that are not inherently set up for their success & affirmation.
  • To offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives  towards these purposes.

Last week, I carried that mission over to ForHarriet.com, and posted about the system of arts & entertainment. The focus of the piece was Jazmine Sullivan’s latest & brilliant work, “Reality Show”. This piece was specifically important for me to review, as Sullivan unpacks some really deep womanist themes in her work & provides a landscape of the realities of a number of Black women in America today. Check out my review here!

Image credit: ForHarriet.com

Healing from Sexism in Sacred Places

I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t. – Audre Lorde

I knew that my life was changing drastically, but I wasn’t sure of the direction of change. I was preparing to attend graduate school on an assistantship that would allow me to engage in meaningful work. I had a partner, whom I thought was incredibly warm-hearted and funny. He’d stuck by my side through a year of disappointments, false starts, and a slew of rejections from professional opportunities.

We both grew up in evangelical Christian traditions. We knew many of the same worship songs and shared the same sense that there was something largely spiritual about the world we lived in. But I had my thoughts; thoughts on women’s reproductive rights, women being able to pastor, the radical inclusion of all marginalized communities, and I was not silent. I was not silent when we turned the idea around for months & months on women preaching. He was studying to become a Methodist minister at the time. “It would probably be a deal breaker for us,” he said, “I couldn’t sit under you.”

My capacity to ignore that comment for a year yet astounds me. But suffice it to say I had larger concerns. I was heavily focused on networking & preparing for grad school. At the beginning of my grad school journey, we maintained a long distance relationship for the most part, sharing life events virtually. Yet, the concerns about my career trajectory, theological views, and liberationist perspective became problematic for him.

Through seeking council from his pastoral care team, he came to resent that I was not the woman who knew how to “shut up and pray.” He came to think that my theology was off regarding women in leadership roles. He began to pursue other relationships. Eventually he asserted that God was calling him to a season of singleness. Soon after our break up, a friend told me that he had gotten married.

In her book Bad Feminist (2014), Dr. Roxane Gay writes an essay called How We All Lose. In this essay, she unpacks her deep discomfort regarding a quote that she heard from politician Richard Mourdock. In one of his debates, he connected the mistreatment of women through rape as God-intended if new life came from it. Gay (2014) reflects, “Just as there are many different kinds of rape, there are many different kinds of God. I am also reminded that women, more often than not, are the recipients of God’s intentions and must also bear the burdens of these intentions (p. 99).” What she is saying here is that our understanding of God is greatly connected to who we are and the systems that we have “bought in to”. She is pointing to an extreme example of the dangerous connections we might make when heteropatriarchy primarily informs the way we hear God.

During that time, I did what I knew to do in times of severe spiritual distress. I gathered with my faith community. I read books by prominent faith leaders. I scoured commentaries. But this was more than about trying to convince myself of whether or not I could teach in church. This was about the questioning of Imago Dei – the image of God in me – a Black woman. This is what was called into question in sacred spaces – the spaces of my intimate relationships with men and the physical constructs of the church. It took me a long time to hear any type of story which mirrored my own, and after reading the men in commentaries and listening to the men in the pulpit, I began to think that maybe there was no balm.

And then came, what I believe to be, Divine Intervention. I went to graduate school with a cohort of women. All women. Our primary professors were women. And the experience was unlike any other learning experience I have ever encountered. They bought coffee when I was tired. They gave hugs after each time I got into a car accident (lack of sleep + stress is incredibly dangerous in that way). They were academically brilliant. They were rigorous in their quest for knowledge. They called me out on all the ways I tried to bullshit them and myself by selling myself short in the classroom or not taking ownership of the strong work I was doing. They listened to me complain and told me to do the work anyway. And they introduced me to bell hooks.

Through them and bell hooks, I learned to teach for social justice & transformation. I also learned the theories that I needed for healing and eventually she encouraged me to create them, as well. She taught me that my lived experiences could be studied, analyzed, and turned into intellectual theory; theories that would empower. Though the subtleties of our lives were not the same, her voice began to both soothe and challenge.

Since then, I have been inspired by the works and teachings of womanist theologians and scholars and their words have sustained me in the journey. I have also been inspired by my personal she-roes who are so great in number that I would be remiss to name even a few. They opened a new world before my eyes: helping me to re-engage with faith in a new way. But most importantly, they administered the healing balm: a way to see both myself and others around me as sacred, spiritual, & worthy of love. They pushed me toward a healing process from sexism in sacred places all the way from the heart (the site of intimate relationships with self & others) to the church (the physical constructs that we use to express spirituality).

Through this journey, I have come to forgive: to know that ‘well-meaning’ people misinterpret the voice of God. To understand that no one escapes the messages of sexism that pervade both secular and sacred spaces. To offer my narrative in hopes of creatively challenging those in sacred spaces to inquire: in what ways have my congregants experienced the detrimental effects of sexism in this space? How might I address / change that? At the time when I needed it most, the women came to me, and offered me their story. And through their story, I was empowered to offer my own.

Image Source Credit: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/9499849190287889/

Resources:
Gay, R. (2014). Bad feminist: Essays.

Mitchem, S. (2002, January 1). “There is a Balm …” Spirituality & Healing among African American Women. Retrieved January 19, 2015, from http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mfr/4919087.0007.103/–there-is-a-balm-spirituality-healing-among-african-american?rgn=main;view=fulltext

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Healing from Sexism in Sacred Places by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Pants in the Pulpit Pt. I: A Mother’s Act of Resistance

There weren’t too many things my mother hid from me. From a very early age, I knew her views on the world, modern medicine, faith, and more. My mother played the congas in our nondenominational Christian church each Sunday, serving in music ministry. In many ways, she was an extension of “the pulpit.”

The pulpit, in many such traditions, is an honored and sacred space. It is the site through which revelatory words flow for the healing of the people. One Sunday, our pastor pulled my mother aside: “He told me it’s not proper for women to wear pants in the pulpit.”

Our pastor was loving, intense, and well-meaning, but like many, had not escaped implicit & problematic ideologies. From that Sunday forward, the expectation was set: no pants (for women) in the pulpit. I was a child at this time, around 7 years old, and what would follow after that Sunday was a lesson I could never forget.

Scholar, Rose Weitz (2001) breaks it down like this:

“As Michel Foucault (1979, 1980) described, to carry out the tasks of modern economic and social life, societies require “docile bodies,” such as regimented soldiers, factory workers who perform their tasks mechanically, and students who sit quietly. To create such bodies, “disciplinary practices” have evolved through which individuals both internalize and act on the ideologies that underlie their own subordination. In turn, these disciplinary practices have made the body a site for power struggles and, potentially, for resistance, as individual choices about the body become laden with political meanings.

For millennia, women’s subordinate position has been justified by an ideology that labeled their bodies and brains as inferior (Weitz 1998) and has been reinforced by a unique set of disciplinary practices aimed at creating a submissive and “feminine” body…” p. 668

What women do with their bodies in sacred spaces, the ways they conform, their choices to resist, holds weight and has a ripple effect from one generation to the next.

My mother is a very practical woman. She isn’t one for navel-gazing and she prefers action to ideas. For her, wearing pants in the pulpit was simply the most logical thing to do. “I’m playing the congas, and that involves my whole body. I need to feel free while I’m playing. So that means I’m wearing pants.” Each week, I watched her wear pants. Each week, for about a month, she got pulled to the side. Until one day, no one said anything.

Shortly after, I noticed that more women were beginning to wear pants. In my mind’s eye, I remember the conversations happening in hushed corners – the realization that they could choose what they wore. They could reject the assertion that proper women did not wear pants in the pulpit… without saying a word. 

Words are not necessarily my mother’s “thing”. They are mine. What she has done with her body, I now do with my pen. At an early age, I saw that there was a middle – a gray area – a space that would be uniquely mine to navigate as a woman of color in a sacred space. The choices of how I would navigate that would be up to me… and it wouldn’t always be easy…

Resources
WEITZ, R. (10/2001). “WOMEN AND THEIR HAIR: Seeking Power through Resistance and Accommodation”. Gender & society (0891-2432), 15 (5), p. 667 – 686.

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Pants in the Pulpit Pt. I: A Mother’s Act of Resistance by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Unbought & Unbossed: Writing to Self-Author

5 – 7 MINUTE READ

Writing is a hard and valuable practice. At the end of the day, what makes it so hard is not the exercises in grammar, the content creation, or the edits. The hardest part is learning to actually own your thoughts. Author & blogger, Allison Vesterfelt, constantly address writing as a practice that is internally healing & challenging. The arts (creative, written, or performance) has a way of exposing our deepest thoughts and truths; in these ways we can physically see our thoughts exposed ‘on paper’. It is about naming and claiming: writing down thoughts and saying, “Yes… I take responsibility. Those are mine.”

Often times, it’s a lot easier to let someone else speak for us. We can hide behind their words, choose the bits we agree with, and criticize / deconstruct the bits that we don’t. But when it’s our work, there is a sense of stepping up to the plate… “Here I am… with my words.”

If you watch Scandal, you’ll remember a particular scene between Papa Pope & Olivia Pope, as he tries to convince her to leave D.C. He spoke the sentiments and realities of many people within marginalized communities: you’ve got to do twice as much, you’ve got to be twice as good… to get half the credit. Papa Pope’s advice was all too familiar. As a Black woman, growing up in Philadelphia, both parents taught me the same lesson, while insisting I master Standard American English and navigate the systems of academia with excellence. I thank them for that, because it’s real. In her book, Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay (2014) cites a similar message in her own upbringing. Research explains:

“Solorzano et al. (2002) found that one response of students who had their abilities doubted was to work doubly hard and show their peers and professors that they belonged. Successful Black students interviewed by Fries-Britt and Turner (2002) shared that they often encountered students who made comments based on stereotypical images of Blacks, and that they felt that they repeatedly engaged in a “proving process” to establish themselves as worthy and academically able both in and outside of the classroom.” (Fries Britt & Griffin, 2007, p. 511-512)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This phenomena extends past the halls of colleges and universities institutions. It finds me when I sit down to write. There are the all too familiar, “clutch your pearls moment”:
Will what I write be brilliant enough to actually be cited and recognized, especially when a man is interpreting / presenting on my work?
Will what I write be brilliant enough to establish professional status, when I am marginalized by age?
Will what I write be so brilliant that I cannot be denied?
As someone who carries a few marginalized identities… this stuff can get complicated.

And then, dear Allison Vesterfelt tells me that “writing is not an exercise of the mind. It is an exercise of the heart.” (I believe her and I don’t believe her at the same time. I think she’d be alright with that).  In my experience, writing is an exercise in self-authorship. It’s a clarify my thoughts, understand what is important to me, and then stay true in owning that (Baxter-Magolda, 2008). Writing is an exercise that compels me, encourages me: Own your thoughts. Own their brilliance. Own their shadows. Own your story. Unbossed. Unbought. It requires me to be different from even the people that I look up to in a variety of fields. It requires me to be an active participate in my own process.

When I was in graduate school, my professors led me to a similar lesson: Own your work. Defend it. Protect it. Grow from it and grow through it. Learning to freelance is that Lesson 2.0.

Image courtesy of Paul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Resources:
Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2008). Three elements of self-authorship. Journal of College Student Development, 49(4), 269-284. doi: 10.1353/csd.0.0016

Chisholm, S. (2010). Unbought and unbossed (Exp. 40th anniversary ed.). Washington, D.C.: Take Root Media.

Fries-Britt, Sharon, and Griffin, K. (2007). “The Black box: How high-achieving Blacks resist stereotypes about Black Americans.” Journal of College Student Development 48.5: 509-524.

Fries-Britt, S., & Turner, B. (2002). Uneven stories: Successful Black collegians at a Black and a White campus. The Review of Higher Education, 25(3), 315-330.

Solorzano, D. G., Allen, W. R., & Carroll, G. (2002). Keeping race in place: Racial microaggressions and campus racial climate at the University of California Berkeley. Chicano Latino Law Review, 23(Spring), 15-112.

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Unbossed & Unbought: Writing to Self Author by Jade Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.