Monthly Archives: February 2012

My gender does not make me a victim…stop it!

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It’s happened, I’m officially irritated.

Last year I think it happened on Tuesday, at least this year it waited until Wednesday to sneak up on me. It was during the Intersections of Violence Against Women and Militarism when all four of the speakers (well maybe only three because in truth I walked out before they were done) kept referring to all the violence that women suffer. Rape, female genital mutilation, starvation.

OK. I get it. Women suffer violence.

But what irritates me is that there seems to be a dichotomy of women = good/peaceful/victim and men = bad/violent/oppressor. And that dichotomy does two things:

  • First it teaches men that they cannot be agents of non-violent change (to be non-violent is to be weak is to be a woman) so they may as well grab power in whatever way they can; and
  • Second, it teaches women around the world that they are less than powerful and that someone must change their situation for them.

And what about the women who participate in state-sanctioned violence by virtue of joining the military? In America at least, one of the many reasons some people living in rural areas join is to escape that area and considering the theme is “rural women” this year I would have thought it would have come up.

Or not. Because it seems that, even without explicitly defining the term “rural woman,” we certainly have an idea of what she looks like. She:

  • is not from America (or really any first world country);
  • is almost certainly not white;
  • most likely does not speak English as her first language;
  • is straight and probably has children;
  • is or will be married one day.

I would like to meet her and see if she really is all of these things. But I can’t, because she’s not here.

Unless she’s part of a religious (usually Christian) relief organization who funded her entire trip here. In which case I won’t get an honest answer out of her because really, if you were relying on an organization’s help for everything would you be ready to dime them out to a complete stranger?

*Sigh*

Back to my original point, being a woman does not automatically make me a victim. I might be in a victimized state right now, but I am not a victim. Like I am experiencing poverty or homelessness, I am not poor or homeless.

Changing our language changes our attitudes. Instead of making someone forever a victim, or poor, or homeless, we can begin to make them agents in their own change.

And now for the backstory…

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The hope for the future outside the UN building

Yesterday afternoon, I attended a screening of the PBS documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” which focused on the Liberian women’s non-violent resistance to their country’s civil war – Leymah Gbowee was the one who organized the protest and won the most recent Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts – and the idea that women really need to be at the table both in bringing war to a close AND during the peace negotiations.

The documentary was directed by Abigail Disney, great-niece to Walt Disney, who is a philanthropist and documentary filmmaker who focuses mostly on women, war and peace.

I had seen the documentary before but went because she was going to speak. I really didn’t want to like her. Here she is this white woman from NYC, living in one of the richest countries in the world, finding out about the Liberian story only because of her connections and a trip she took there. She smacks of privilege and I didn’t  really want to believe she wasn’t in it for something other than the money and fame.

But someone has to tell the story. According to her, no one else was doing it.

Journalists were there, they talked to the women (of Liberia), learned what they did, and did not think it important enough to actually tell the women’s story.

From that first film came the four other films in the Women, War and Peace series which focus on Bosnia, Columbia, Afghanistan and an overarching film called “War Redefined” which speaks to the changing face of war.

After the screening, Abigail spoke about the film and her experience. One of the big points she made was that it didn’t matter what the war was about,

we’re shooting at each other and it’s stupid – bottom line.

The whole idea behind the changing face of war is that it’s not being fought on some battlefield, it’s house to house, neighbor to neighbor – and it affects women and children most of all. While they may not be directly shooting the weapons, women are the ones left to pick up the pieces of their lives once their bothers, sons, fathers and husbands are dead or missing. Women are the ones that have to reintegrate their “child soldiers” back into the community once the fighting is done. Women are responsible for holding their families together when the entire world they know has gone crazy.

Abigail blames the military industrial complex turned military private equity complex for making war profitable.

There is not enough serious attention being paid to the above-board legitimate sale of weapons which then leads to below board illegitimate (excess) weapons trade.

A familiar theme surrounding talks of war and peace is that weapons don’t have an expiration date.

Weapons come from all over. (There are currently) 870 million weapons in circulation and enough bullets to kill everyone around the world twice. And yet, we still make 8 million new weapons a year.

One of the final points Abigail made, and one that came up a lot during my years of Women’s Studies schooling, is the complicity of popular culture in creating a “culture of war.”

The Hollywood industrial complex that sells a type of masculinity is culpable when they sell films around the world that show war as a strategy of masculinity.

Now let’s put on my feminist-colored glasses for a moment:

I did appreciate that Abigail made no bones about speaking from an American point of view – at least she was transparent. But I wish that there had been someone other than an American both on the panel and directing the documentary because I don’t believe we got a true perspective on what’s really going on.

And although she wants to believe there are overarching themes to war, I think you have to break down why folks are engaging in war in the first place.

It trivializes women’s participation by saying “all wars are stupid, let’s stop them” because it’s almost like saying “women don’t need to (or can’t) understand the complex reasons behind why men go to war.” And it’s ignoring the fact that in some countries (coughcoughAmericacoughcough) women also go to war.

So while on one had I think it’s important to highlight women’s participation in the peace process, on the other I am skeptical that making a documentary (or five) really advances any understanding or critical dialogue.

And in the end, that’s what’s really needed.

Arab Spring…a female perspective

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Yesterday, I spent an hour and a half at a talk entitled “Arab Spring: Voices of Women.” So often, the Arab Spring that truly started in December 2010 when a street vendor set himself on fire in Cairo, Egypt’s Tahrir Square is not thought about from a gendered perspective. So often, the news media talk about the Arab Spring as a whole without ever asking “well, what about the women? How were they affected and was it different from the men.”

The session was sponsored by the United States Federation for Middle East Peace so it had a definite US agenda, but moderator did a good job framing the Arab Spring that was definitely positive for women, both because of the outcome and because of their political participation.

Women felt liberated to step away from home and speak about injustice. This has broad implications for good in the world – women have merit and they deserve to be listened to.

The most interesting speaker was a woman who was actually at Tahrir Square for most of the protests. She said women were instrumental in combating the violence and that during the 18 days of protest, there was not one act of violence between the protesters. One thing to come out of the revolution was that there is a reconstruction of the national concept of “women.”

For first time in history, a female is running for president, who we hope would win.

At the same time, she is under no impression that the gains made will be sustainable.

This is a transitional state and a lot of issues need political, economical and democratical corrections.Woman realize a bitter truth: women were pushed away from decision-making and are pushed to the margins. It appears the women’s role is being diminished in Egypt; the constitution correction committee had no women and there are no woman holding high positions in the government save for one.

She said it is up to the women to push for the continuation of their rights, otherwise, the Arab Spring will be beneficial only to the men.

Egyptian women living in fear of losing all the rights they gained during the revolution… Equality is not up for discussion. Our duty now is to stop anyone from taking the rights we gained from us.

Other sessions yesterday included a “conversation circle” about Human Rights with other women from around the world (ok, US and Canada) which turned into more of a business card handout session and a session on the empowerment of LGBT folks in rural environments around the world. More on that one when I get time.

Do you even like corn?

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee (photo by Kevin Tachman)

This week the focus of my blog is going to be completely different…I do hope you’ll allow me this indulgence. I am currently in New York City as a staff member of a group of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) members who have come to attend the Commission on the Status of Women meetings.

I came as an attendee last year, my blog on that experience is here, and in December they asked me to come back as an adviser.

Long story short, the United Nations spends two weeks each year focused on the status of women around the globe and each year has a priority theme. This year’s theme is “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.”

Today was something called the Non-governmental organization (NGO) consultation day where we get the schedule of events for the week and get to hear a lot (A LOT) of people talk at us.

One of my favorite speakers from today was Leymah Gbowee, the current Nobel Peace Prize laureate who works in Liberia as a peace and woman’s rights activist. While most panelists and speakers today talked about policy at the international level, what the policy is designed to do and how it will help rural women, Leymah came in and almost literally said: “Do you even like corn?”

Her whole point was that in order to help rural women eradicate poverty you have to listen and be receptive to their needs. I may think that corn is the greatest vegetable God ever created but if you don’t eat it or it won’t grow in your region what does it matter what I think? If I then give you a bunch of corn  kernels they’ll all go to waste. It’s not about policy, it’s about paying attention to what rural women say they want and need.

 We can sit and talk but until we recognize that  that some of the resources we need are already in the [rural] communities, [those resources] won’t be forthcoming.

Another point she made was that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time we want to create change.

Instead of empowerment, why not enhance the skills rural women already have?

If the women already have a process in place for food security or community building, why not provide them the tools to do it more efficiently instead of teaching them a brand new process?

One of the most frustrating things to me is when we talk and talk and nothing actually gets accomplished at these meetings. We continue to make new policy and pat ourselves on the backs for creating “change,” but we never actually implement those policies to see if they actually work or not. Leymah had a totally different take on that idea.

To create peace, we must invest in rural women. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, take off our high heels and get back into the fields.

The challenge for me is to take these ideas back to the spaces and communities I work with locally. How can the programs I am involved with at home be strengthened by paying better attention to the folks that they are actually designed to serve?

And so the wedding spam begins!

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My kitty all doped out on some powerful catnip!

Currently my cat is in the process of shoving herself completely under the couch… and I want to go too! Somehow my email got attached to some Super-Secret Squirrel List that says “O Look! There’s someone getting married! Ready…SPAM!” and I just want to hide.

My guess it was the knot.com (who promised they wouldn’t sell my information by the way – but I guess if they just give it away that’s different?)

Anyway, I’ve been getting an overabundance of emails which are easy to ignore but today I cam home and found a black envelope with my address hand written on the front and the name of the company – In His Service Productions, LLC.

The inside contents were pretty (and pretty standard) – the white woman in a white dress, the white man in a black tux, Jesus crosses on every page. I have no plans to call them (“schedule an engagement session and get 200 save the date cards free!”) because I already have a wedding photographer (shameless plug for Tara Lee who was/is wonderful, she did our engagement photos too), but I still think it was nice of them to think of me.

Except that they probably didn’t.

See, this is where my faith and my sexual orientation collide.

I’ve never had an issue reconciling my being a lesbian and my being Christian. It is what it is, God loves just the same as God did before I knew I was a lesbian (because let’s not pretend God didn’t know the whole time) and the world continues to evolve.

But for some folks, it doesn’t even register that there might be such a thing as a gay or lesbian Christian. I’m sure the folks from In His Service Productions, LLC are nice enough, but I can almost guarantee it didn’t even occur to them that I might be planning a same-gender wedding when they sent out their mailer.

I think it’s time for all the gay Christians to stand up and claim their place within the Christian community of which they’re already a part. So often it’s the gay Christians speaking to the gay community about reconciling their faith and sexual orientation but not speaking honestly enough to their own Christian community about their lives.

Words have power and so to say to the church community to which you already belong that “I’m a lesbian, and a Christian, and I’m not going anywhere because two pieces of me are not incompatible, and o, by the way this is my [partner/gf/bf/not 'best friend'] and I’m going to serve on your boards and sing in your choir and volunteer in your nursery and be a big part of your community” is huge.

That’s one of the reasons Marianne and I are choosing to get married at Green Street by Rev. Kelly. We know this community, we live in this community, but sometimes I don’t think our community get it. Sometimes it seems that the cool “liberal” thing to do is accept people who are different from us. But there are real same-gender couples, who really belong to this church and who really want to get married. It’s fun to say we’re multicultural and all-accepting, but are we?

I’m not meaning to be hard on our community, Lord knows Green Street is one amazing place, I just think it’s time to put our faith (and our reconciling stance) into action.

On Lent

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So, in the Christian tradition, today begins the season of Lent, the 40 days before Jesus died and rose again at Easter. Green Street had their Ash Wednesday service and my forehead is still covered in an ash cross three hours later. I remember in grade school we used to have contests to see whose ashes could last the longest – I never won.

Somehow I think we missed the point.

Tonight Rev. Kelly was talking about Lent as a season of both giving things up – old bad habits – and taking things on – new good habits. It’s a season to go back to reset, reconnecting with God in a way that’s truly authentic.

For me it’s also a season of allowing myself to be brought low in order to understand that it’s not about me. It’s about trusting God and really learning that when God says go I go always knowing that God’s right there.

Anyway, my friend Ginny Wilder is an amazing singer/songwriter and she is currently in seminary in Virginia. She was ordained into the Episcopal church last December and will graduate in May. Earlier in January, she wrote a song called “I Know My Way Around the Leaving” and it seemed appropriate to all themes I wrote about above:

For years you know I’ve thought about this/Anytime I hold onto something/It’s because I’m not strong enough/To let it go
You have been my home/You have helped me grow/I’m not sure if I am ready to/Do this on my own…
Instead of falling/I am held up by you/Lifted up by a deeper love/I know is true

I have a hard time with goodbyes

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So my mom and I hit up David’s Bridal yesterday and…dare I say it…found my wedding dress! EEK!

The whole experience was pretty awesome and I got to feel like a princess for about 30 minutes, which in truth is all it took for me to put this dress on and say “got it!”

My post on Friday was about how I was (sort of) dreading this day simply because I would have to out myself again and again. My friend Ash Mo commented on my blog on FB and had some sage words of advice:

Maybe you could turn your expectations around during dress shopping! See how many people you can get to tell you how beautiful you are, or your fiance is. See how many people you can get to stand behind you! In the end…the day isn’t about… them!”

So I tried really hard to take them and make the best of it. And it really turned out to be no big deal. The check-in sales desk lady didn’t bat an eye when I listed Marianne as my better half, the information sheet had a space for “groom/partner,” the 20-something year old woman didn’t blink when I talked about my upcoming same-gender wedding, although she was really impressed with the proposal. Suffice it to say I got the exact same treatment I would have had I been marrying Mr. instead of Ms. Hines.

While I was trying on dresses, Catie Curtis’ song “Hard Time With Goodbyes” kept playing on repeat in my head and I couldn’t figure out why, especially because the entire song is about endings and I’m on a journey moving forward. I went home and looked up the lyrics and they made so much sense:

The world is turning so slowly turns the future to the past/ Turns the ocean like a carousel flowing waves and waves of glass/ But I can’t feel it move beneath me so every ending’s a surprise/ I can’t feel these changes coming, I have a hard time with goodbyes/ I have a hard time hard time hard time with goodbyes

I think as a lesbian I am so accustomed to always being marginalized that when I am  not in a space of marginalization, I feel like I’m losing a part of me. I’m going to sound incredibly selfish here, but by staying in that marginalized space, it allows me to say (unconsciously) that “I’m special, look at me, over here,” and when I am just like the other brides getting married it’s like I don’t know how to be. I am so used to wearing that marginalized identity as a coat or using it to keep my guard up that when that “identity” is removed I’m not quite sure what to think.

So, for me, being in a space with others that doesn’t revolve around my being a lesbian is great, but in some sense, I have a hard time with goodbyes.

The whole point of the GLBTQ movement, for me anyway, is to get to a space where we all just brides (or people), getting married to (or having relationships with), other people, on different dates…and so what. But once we get to that space, what becomes of the identities we’ve created for ourselves? If we no longer have a need to be identified by who or what we are, then where does that leave us?

It’s not something I have an answer to, it’s just an observation.