now let us love: Womanism and Spirituality

I can remember sitting on the stiff pews of Our Lady of Peace church on Tuesday mornings. I couldn’t have been much older than six or perhaps seven. No matter the time of day the church was always dark and the twelve red candles which were placed under Christ’s bloodied image glowed against the dusty wood paneling. I hated being in church. It reminded me of the time my older cousins trapped me in my grandpa’s basement and turned out the light. Dark, old, and alone. This is how I saw religion. When father Grimes would take his place on the stage and pontificate about our vengeful lord I would imagine God sitting beside me and giggling along. I had decided quite early on that whatever strange things my teachers told me about life and God, they were not the truth. From the moment my bottom hit the pew, I would turn off and shut down.

Although I didn’t believe in God the way the old priests described him I still followed some of the bible stories. Until one December evening when I was on my way to my school’s Christmas pageant where I was starring as the Virgin Mary. My mother told me that Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th, my brother agreed with her, and I cried the whole way to the pageant. Even our beloved Christmas pageant seemed hypocritical and blasphemous. I was the mother of our lord and I only had one song and one line, while the cow, Betsy, stole the show with her four solos and twelve lines. Looking back it does seem twistedly accurate that a farm animal would be aloud more talk time then the blessed virgin.

I learned to resent religion early on. I hated it, I poked fun at it, I cut it out of my life completely and I never looked back. There was however, always a deep spiritual pull that resided within me. As a child I would climb to the top of my favorite tree and sit on it’s branches. I would spend hours wondering about reincarnation. I would develop stories of my past lives and become fixated on the details of them. I would wonder about heaven and hell and what the face of God looked like. On summer days I would run outside into the green of my backyard hungry and I would return hours later full. I was feeding on my spiritual connection with nature and deep thought.

I found spirituality again in my high school English class. There, we discussed dozens of books of which I had never dreamed of. These precious texts weren’t traditional or scholarly and most importantly they weren’t written by men. They were written by women, all kinds of women, and for the first time I was allowed to hear their voices. I had never before been able to connect with someones story the way I could then. It wasn’t just the stories that spoke to me. Everything down to the words these women chose were different. Even the sound became something other worldly and uniquely feminine. I explain feminism as something spiritual because for me it was. It opened a door which allowed me to connect with women on a deeper level than similar life events. I could connect through bodily and emotional experiences of the familiar feminine. Feminism was a snack for my soul, but still my hunger grew.

I was introduced to Universal Kabbalah in the spring of 2008 and I have been studying it ever since. I was young and living in New York City on an internship experience when I was taken in by the loving embrace of Naam yoga and all that it could offer me. I can still recall the way it felt sitting in the studio under the skylight, breathing deeply and letting my mind clear. In a moment of meditation I became genderless, and lifeless all at once. I had no sense of future or past that I could recall, I simply was. That single drop of time allowed to begin an important realization. We must stay connected with our bodies while remembering that we are not a product of them. We are simply spiritual beings having a human experience, and we all came from the same place, and we are all connected.

I believed that I was learning the truth. What I did not realize however, was the extent or power of it. What I was learning and had spent my entire life hungry for, was true love. This is not a romantic love, or a love for one other. Instead it describes a love and empathy for all. Recently I’ve been exploring texts by Layli Maparyan, Gloria Anzaldua, and Buddhist nun, Sister Chang Khong who have written extensively on spiritual activism and womanism. I have interpreted the idea of womanism as one that is fully inclusive of all people and lies in the belief that all beings are interconnected. To inflict harm on one, is to inflict harm on oneself because we cannot survive with out one another. This idea reaches far beyond viewing others as only human to include all living beings. In her memoir Learning True Love, Khong explains that we must help uplift one another in the present moment and we must work with love in order to find what we seek. In now let us shift, Anzaldua explains that spiritual activism takes place when the our inward transformation begins transform our outward actions.

By cultivating spirituality and allowing a space for it in our social movements and actions I believe that activists such as myself can find greater mobility for our causes. When we are outraged by a policy or an event that we see compromising our human rights or damaging our community, the most comfortable response would be to work from anger. Our horror is what pushes us into action. We want to fight against the enemy for our cause. When we stop and practice mindfulness, as Khong explains in her book, we can begin to move away from viewing the one who inflicts violence on us as our “enemy”. I personally like to use the example of “I am the rapist, I am the victim” By identifying with a rapist we are in no way condoning rape. We are simply acknowledging that we live in a society that allows for rape to occur, and that if we were to walk a mile in his shoes, perhaps we too would have made the same mistake or become the same kind of person. When we are able to see God in every living thing then we will be able to move from a place of love rather than hate. Hate and anger fizzle out very quickly. They are exhausting emotions and if you base a social movement in them, your cause will never succeed. True love is immensely powerful and it will provide the mobility needed to bring about social change.

If this concept is an uncomfortable one that’s okay, be patient with it. We must remember the real reason why we strive for social change. We recycle and vote for green policies because we love our earth. We push for a better educational system because we love our children and teachers. We speak up about violence against women because we love our sisters. This is where our outward actions should live. By becoming powerful we can create equality and change our society and we can do this by learning true love.


Words With Friends

I walked into the dusty cool house before letting my eyes adjust to the sunlight outside. I looked around, feeling terrible from the night before, I gave a wave and said nothing. “Sup Slut McGee!” My coworker held his hand out for me to shake. Ugh, so it begins. Apparently this has become my new name. I had to admit, it had a certain ring to it although it was a definite downgrade from the more familiar “Tits McGee”. It was Sunday, a day that should be honored by laying around in sweatpants rather than guzzling flat forties.

When the drinking games commenced suddenly anyone who couldn’t finish a cup of beer in twelve seconds became a “pussy”. Yes, because that’s exactly how we should be referring to female sex organs. In the midst of my fuzzy drunk fog I couldn’t help but picture everyone standing around the beer pong table as walking vaginas. I squinted my eyes and shook my head.

I’ve been surrounded by words like slut, pussy and the always heartwarming bitch, since before middle school. Sometimes these words were thrown at me in anger, spat by a serpent’s tongue. Other times they were nudged in my direction, “I don’t sleep around because I’m not a slut.” Then the eyes of the girl across the room moved gently in my direction. For as long as these words have been used to hurt me, or describe me, they’ve also been used in a way that’s playful and inviting. “I love you Bitch!” “I’m proud of you slut!” When we really sit and analyze the meaning behind these words it’s absurd to think that we use them in everyday diction. No respectable individual would throw around racist slurs, so why then are we allowed to get away gendered insults and slut shaming?

I stepped away from noise and grabbed a beer from the fridge. Upon returning to the table I was startled by my friend yelling “You slut! Why didn’t you grab me one?!” How did he know that the real reason why I forgot his beer was because I was blowing the rest of the party in the bathroom? Damn he’s good. I rolled my eyes in silent protest, turned the can towards the Ceiling and drank.

The truth is that I hate even hearing words like slut or whore because they hurt. They’ve been used to stab me in the heart so many times that the sound of them makes me cringe. Pussy doesn’t give me the chills, instead I find it absolutely infuriating. To refer to part of the female anatomy as weak is nonsensical at best. Men enter into this world through vaginas, they grow up fantasizing about them, they make love to them, and then they have the audacity to call them weak or worthless. My vagina and your drinking buddy are not one in the same.

Even worse than slut shaming or degrading the female form, are rape jokes. Last Tuesday I was sitting in my Spanish class and a particularly rowdy male in the back yelled “Dude, the culture section of the exam totally raped me, it was so stupid!” Oh really? Those three little multiple choice questions forced themselves inside of you? He later apologized for saying that they were “stupid” while completely disregarding the more insulting part of his comment. Rape isn’t something that should be played with. I don’t want to get comfortable with rape. It’s not funny to me or the countless other victims who have suffered through it. It’s more than a word, it’s a scar, a tear, a constant pain in my chest. Laughing about rape will only perpetuate it. In the same way that making words like slut, pussy, whore, and bitch appropriate for recreational use perpetuates gender discrimination.

I congratulate movements like Slutwalk for trying to reclaim language that has been used to divide and shame women but it is still very much a work in progress. There’s an idea floating around our society which insists that “words don’t hurt”, but I assure you that they do.  If you know how it feels to be hurt by a word, any word, than why would you use another to hurt someone else? We have to be conscious of our language and what we are actually saying before we say it. If you’re a gay man, stop using the word dyke because you know how it feels to be called a fag. If you’re a black man, stop using words to discriminate against gender, because you know it feels to be ostracized for your race, and for God’s sakes us women must stop using slut shaming to police the sexuality of our sisters. Using positive language and behavior is the first step to eliminating inequality.

The Divided States of America

I sat on a bench that ran along the north side of Ohio State’s legendary oval while I sipped my coffee and stared out across the green. It was a beautiful morning which was sure to turn into an idyllic spring day. But then suddenly something caught my eye. It was a sign, and after further concentration I noticed that there were more. Big, with blaring reds and pinks. I strained my eyes to see what they were displaying and then it hit me. The antiabortion crusaders had found their way back to our cheery campus to spread their hellfire and blame. They come every year to swarm the paths we women use to walk to class. Glaring and staring they shove their brutally vicious signs in our faces. Signs which carry grotesque images of aborted fetuses, as if that’s anyway to respect the dead. I wanted to scream loud enough for them to hear me. I wanted to run over to them and kick down their signs and make them see that I was right there and they wouldn’t scare me away. But I didn’t, instead I just watched. I let the blood boil up inside me and the tears well up in my eyes, and I sat.

I fumed silently the whole way home. I pressed my face to the Cota Bus window and closed my eyes. What are they still protesting against? Aren’t they winning? My inbox is constantly flooded with news about the attack on women’s health. Email after email telling me that my rights are slipping from my grasp. They scream at me and I scream back in protest, furiously signing every petition I can then throwing it out to a community that doesn’t care.

I got home and threw my keys on the counter. Digging frantically through my cupboard I found my tea and put the kettle on the stove. My phone buzzed from within my jacket pocket, “God, now what?” I read the received message and my mouth fell open. The Ethnic Studies building, Hale hall, had been defaced. This morning had brought with it more than a cool spring chill, it brought the realization of racism on our campus. At some point early this morning it was discovered that someone had spray painted “Long Live Zimmerman” on the side of the building.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Trayvon Martin case, get familiar, because it is quickly dividing our nation. Martin was a 17 year old black male who was shot and killed on his return to a gated community in Sanford FL, by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman described Trayvon as being “suspicious” because he was wearing a hoodie. Well, and he was black. After all there are no black families living in gated communities in this country. It’s a tragic case of racial profiling, a case that in this day and age shouldn’t be tolerated.

All politics and arguments aside, there was wrongful death. A young boy died because of his race and unfortunately that’s the reality of the situation. His grieving family, friends, and community must carry on his name as they strive for justice. I do not believe that George Zimmerman is an evil man, nor do I believe that his rash decision was completely his fault. Our society is a racist institution that sets both parties up for failure. Zimmerman was conditioned by the media and perpetual racist notions to believe that all young black men are criminals. This has got to stop. This separation of human beings based on their gender, race, and class. We are all people deserving of a community which loves, connects, and protects us, and quite frankly The United States isn’t it.

These battles being fought against marginalized races and ethnic groups as well as the ones being fought against women are tearing this country apart. Everyone has a side, or an agenda. We’re all seeking the benefit of one, but what ever happened to one for all? In this constant uphill march for equality and social justice are we losing our footing? When I stared at the picture of the defaced Hale hall I found myself lost in fear and confusion. In the same way I would respond to an adult bullying another, I want to step away from America and ask “Aren’t we too old for this?”

I’m sick of my own government attacking my rights as a woman, and even sicker of my brothers not standing up with me. I am sick racism and profiling, and overall ignorant behavior. No one loses in a society that is built upon equality. This is my country and I want it to be a safe place for everyone in it. I refuse to let oppression run my life and rip my community apart, I am standing up and demanding justice. It’s time for the Divided States of America to once again become United.

Oxygen: Television for Morons

I was in the midst of a romantic rendezvous with Across the Universe’s leading man, Jim Sturgess, when uninvited noise and clatter began entering my dream. Suddenly my delusions became dark and ridden with anxiety as I struggled to open my eyes. My make up from the night before had become a sticky glue. As I pealed my eyes open I directed them towards the television screen that lay before me. Sick with hangover and trapped helplessly between the cushions of an old leather sofa I began to comprehend what I was watching. What I saw disturbed and confused me. “What is this?” I muttered into the leg which lay next to my head. “It’s the Bad Girl’s Club. It’s awful but I can’t stop watching.” My friend sat staring off in a morbid trance. Rather than protesting I slid up on the couch and joined her.

If you have never seen Oxygen’s hit show The Bad Girl’s Club I would like you to first take a moment to congratulate yourself on not falling victim to mindless reality television. The series encompasses girl on girl victimization, violence, alcoholism, and overt sexuality. So basically, it’s old fashioned fun for the whole family. For whatever reason nine or so girls are placed in a lavish mansion in Beverly Hills, CA where they are pumped with alcohol and rewarded for their “bad” behavior with cheap fame. There is no lesson to be learned or encouragement to change their ways, only camera crews willing to instigate drunken fist fights and orgies. The Bad Girl’s Club is essentially Girl’s Gone Wild, gone mainstream.

Unfortunately this is most likely why it is Oxygen’s most popular, (possibly only popular) series. In today’s shock hungry society sex and violence sells and women are paying the price. So why then, would a television network who claims to be for women, exploit women? It’s simple really, the Oxygen network is playing into the market allotted for them by popular culture. Creating dramatic reality shows which display “independent” women as shameless, violent, lushes feeds the anti-feministic stereotype which our society has grown to love.

“See dude, bitches are crazy.” I cocked my head to the left to see where the voice was coming from. An unidentified male sat on the couch opposite from me and slurped up the pink milk from his fruity pebbles as he spoke, “Like this is why girls shouldn’t live together, you guys are catty and just plain nuts.” I turned back to the T.V. in time to witness drinks being thrown and hair being pulled. A one hour show had managed to push women’s efforts back to the stone age for my age group. Thank you Oxygen, for making my life as a twenty something feminist that much harder.

One must understand that I’m not basing my entire opinion on the effects of this show on someone who already refers to women as “bitches”, but at the same time isn’t this the reaction it evokes from it’s viewers? This series avidly promotes girl on girl violence as well as competitiveness which is a debilitating issue for women as is. These producers are banking on young women dividing and conquering each other like gamblers who throw down money at a cock fight.

I rolled from the couch and stumbled awkwardly into the nearby kitchen. As I sat down at the table I could still hear muffled screams from the television. I gained the strength to leave when seven girls attacked one girl in an argument on of all things, who was the “baddest bitch” in the house. Our stomachs turn when we see homemade videos of girls mercilessly attacking other girls on CNN, and think what has the world come to? Where did they learn this?  Well, this is where they learned it. Women learn to hate and to hurt at different levels through out their lives and competitiveness is intrinsically integrated into all parts of our culture, but it is here, on a television network targeted toward women where this kind of disgusting behavior is so obviously played out. It’s as if The Bad Girl’s Club is a step by step guide on how to exactly fit the stereotype of the new American woman.

Let’s Talk, Girl Talk: Vaginas

Essentially, The Vagina Monologues is about different women and their relationships with their vaginas. It’s creator Eve Ensler interviewed hundreds of women and asked them questions like, “If your vagina could talk what would it say?” and even “What would it wear?” Of these testimonies some were chosen, blended, or rewritten to represent the differing views between society and women about their “down there’s”. After seeing this performance at Ohio State the other night I felt inspired to investigate my own relationship with my down there.

To me, vagina was never a dirty word, and it certainly didn’t sound like some shameful disease. Although I have always reserved a quiet disdain for the words “pussy” and “cunt” I always thought that vagina sounded beautiful and even exotic, rather than medically necessary. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware that I had  a vagina until I was forced into sex education in fifth grade. I can still recall our science teacher’s shaky explanation of intercourse. She stood uneasily beside the projector with her left pointer finger and thumb forming an “O” shape while she slowly jabbed her right finger through it. “See class, the penis goes inside the vagina just like this” All of the girls in the class just sat there with a confused look on their faces. I leaned over and whispered into my friend’s ear, “Where’s that hole supposed to be?” she whispered back and said, “The middle one.” We both stuck out our tongues in childish disgust. Until that shocking revelation I believed that all my vagina was, was a chubby, hairless triangle between my legs. I stayed away from my fat little pouch until I was forced to deal with it. I had started my period for the fist time in the eighth grade and it was now time to woman-up and learn how to use a tampon. I sat on the toilet for almost an hour listening to my friends cheering me on and shouting out directions from outside the bathroom, as I tried desperately to understand why that damn thing wouldn’t go up my vagina. It took three hours to figure out that it was because my vagina was not up but back. 

I really never understood the concept of hating the look of one’s vagina. A young man had exposed himself to me in the park by my house the fall of my seventh grade year so I knew what a penis looked like, and after seeing how gross they were I thought vaginas might as well be masterpieces. In the story, Because He Liked to Look at it, the character explained that she was so disgusted by the sight of her own vagina that she imagined there was furniture between her legs. Who taught us to hate the aesthetics of our perfectly personalized vaginas?  It’s yours, and it’s the only one you’ve got so you should love and honor it.

I was still pondering what my vagina would wear when I was shaken back to reality by the words of the next character. She was a Bosnian woman who had been captured by four soldiers who had raped and tortured her for six days. As she told her gruesome tale I squeezed my legs tightly together as an effort to protect mine from invaders. It was then when the burning started between my legs and I realized that I was mourning for her, and what she had lost. I swallowed hard and shifted uncomfortably in my chair as I listened to her explain that the soldiers raped her with a rifle and that on the sixth day of  being raped part of her labia fell off in her hand. Her vagina was destroyed and so then, her heart was as well. This wasn’t even the most horrific rape story I’ve ever heard. Indigenous Guatemalan women raped with machetes as a response to their political upheaval, Women in Eastern Europe who have been kidnapped and forced into prostitution in other countries, and the gang rapes of young girls IN THIS COUNTRY are among the one billion tragic stories of the nameless and voiceless victims of sexual violence.

I know my vagina. I know how she looks, and what she likes, I know how to take care of her. I never feel a disconnection to my vagina, that is of course when I’m alone. When a man comes into the situation that’s when I lose her, abandon her, and hand her over because she no longer belongs to me, she is his. I don’t even notice it’s happening, really. I always enjoy the beginning but then the fear sets in, and it grows and gets loud. It screams inside my head until I start panicking, that is not my partner…he’s in me and I don’t know him…I’m not safe here…I’m not safe…and then I tell him to stop, and he does and it’s over and I’m embarrassed and ashamed and he feels like he did something wrong when he didn’t. I used to block all of this out, but since I finally acknowledged my trauma my thoughts have become more powerful.

That’s the thing about vaginas, they’ll hold inside whatever it is you place in them. That is to say, they will hold shame, pain, and sadness, just as much pleasure or desire. This is why they must be taken care of, respected, and loved. If my vagina could talk she’d say, “STOP, take me on a date, like me and love me before you touch me”, “Don’t call me pussy, I’m no pussy…I’m more powerful than you think!”, and of course, “I am not a whole that was created for your penis, I am my own proud, perfect, separate entity and your bullshit is drying me out like a desert.”

Can’t Buy Me Love

Many single women, including myself, use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to binge drink, cry, and eat an entire pint of Cookie Dough ice cream. The important thing to realize here is that being alone on this “magically romantic” day does not mean that you’re unlovable or somehow less than perfect. All that it actually means is that you’re single. What boggles my mind is how advertisement and perpetuated pressure can make a woman feel sorry for herself for not being in love, when she ordinarily wouldn’t. The Kay Diamond commercials on the radio, the pink heart decorations that surround the office, and the heart shaped boxes of chocolates seem to scream in the faces of single women everywhere that there is something wrong with them. February 14th is just a day, but what it symbolizes has become a cultural expectation.

It should come as no surprise that Valentine’s Day is a holiday created by corporations to buy and sell products. Yes, it’s true that Cupid is a capitalist. I’m not sure what St. Valentine did but I’m fairly certain he didn’t run around giving roses to lovers and handing out heart shaped boxes of chocolates. Love is real and love should be celebrated but it should be celebrated everyday. Why should we as Americans pick one day out of the year to show our partners what they mean to us? Furthermore, why should we choose material gifts to express our feelings, isn’t love more sacred than that?

My mother has always told me that, “You don’t need to give each other junk. If you love each other then that’s enough of a gift. Well, and if you have a joint checking account then buying some stupid gift with half of the other persons money is just retarded.” After excusing her bluntness one must agree that she has a point. The only thing that Valentine’s Day actually accomplishes is cheapening the sanctity of marriage, love, and relationships. No material object should ever be used to prove your love for someone else, only loyalty, trust, and communication can do that.  One day doesn’t become more important than another simply because it’s stamped on a calendar or advertised on T.V..

I could go on hating Valentine’s Day because the one year I actually was in love on this day, I walked in on him having sex with another girl, jerk. However, in doing that I must also take responsibility for the fact that he didn’t love me back. The truth is, he was a terrible person and I walked in on him having sex with other girls more than once.  If I had understood that Valentine’s Day wasn’t a real holiday, then I probably wouldn’t have been as bitter.

Couples should stop buying into the idea of Valentine’s Day, just as single men and women should stop using it as an excuse to throw themselves a  pity party. So to the lovers who read my blog, instead of buying your loved one overpriced jewelry or a cheap teddy bear just keep appreciating them. However, I don’t see anything wrong in drinking a bottle of wine and treating yourself to a high calorie chocolate dessert, because let’s be honest ladies we all need an excuse to indulge ourselves sometimes.

College Mating Rituals: Grinding

I want to first begin by informing you that I got this picture off of and no, that is not a joke. It’s a step by step guide on how to look like a total jackass in the club while at the same time impressing that hot chick who’s throwing up in the nearest trashcan. Cool, bro you won’t even need roofies!

As a senior in college I am no stranger to the club scene or the choice of dance for this generation, I’m speaking of course about grinding. Sure, the roaring 20’s gave birth to Swing, the 50’s had the Sock Hop, The 70’s brought with it the disco era, but what does generation Y have to show for itself? Grinding, the act of assuming an ass up position so that some gelled up frat boy can rub is crotch all over it, awesome!

Now, ladies I know very well that grinding isn’t always a consensual act. Most of us don’t slip on our highest heels and swallow down our cranberry vodkas hoping all the while that some strange man will sneak up behind us and begin dry humping. So why then do we let it continue? Instead of being straightforward with the unwanted hopefuls who approach us on the dance floor, we devise exit strategies. My personal favorite strategy is when a girl feels a man slide up behind her and instead of telling him, “NO.” She latches onto her friend and explains that, that’s her girlfriend, “and she gets really jealous, sorry!” I mean, exactly whom is that supposed to help? Another good one is when the female senses she’s been spotted by an eager male, becomes frightened and sandwiches herself in between her two nearest girl friends, forming some kind of awkward wiggling conga line. Smooth, really smooth, until of course he comes back.

The sobberish girls have all kinds of strategies and defense mechanisms up their sleeves and are also aware that there is safety in numbers. Sadly, the drunker girls are slower and they often find themselves cut off from the pack, unfortunately this is a great opportunity for a herd of testosterone ridden males to descend upon her, leaving her absolutely defenseless from their sloppy gyrations. If you think I’m making this sound like a national geographic narration, it’s because I am. Everytime that I’m dancing with my friends and I see random men making moves towards us I genuinely feel like cattle at a watering hole. I mean let’s get real ladies, there is something seriously wrong with thinking that it’s okay for a total stranger, who reeks of menthols and Natty Ice, to grab you by the hips and rub his penis all over you. I don’t care if he has jeans, athletic shorts, and boxers over top of it, it’s nasty.

Grinding is such a clear way of objectifying women. “Oh, look dude there’s one! I have absolutely 0 impressive dance moves, but let me just walk up behind her. She will totally go home with me after that!” I don’t know who’s filling the heads of these neanderthals but they must be insane. I would love to believe that college boys are completely delusional and this doesn’t actually work, but I know that it does. In reality, college clubs are simply meat markets. Girls suck down cheap liquor, get dry humped, and then are most likely taken advantage of. It’s quite downing when you realize that instead of getting filled with information in college, young women are mostly being pumped with liquor, roofies, and social ideals that work to degrade us. If you’re not comfortable with allowing a man you don’t know to violate your space, let them know. So ladies, the next time you’re out with your friends and some Joe Shmoe tries to get on it, instead of sparing his feelings just give him a reality check.