Ramblings on Raising a Daughter as a Christ-Follower and Feminist

I recently gave birth to my first child, a daughter. This event has changed my life in many ways. One of which is what I notice in the news and media. A few recent events I took particular notice to include Beyonce’s VMA performance and the subsequent reactions, the release of the Ray Rice and Janay Palmer video and reactions to her marrying him, Jennifer Lawrence’s response to her nude photos being leaked on the internet, and Emma Watson’s speech for the UN regarding feminism and the HeforShe campaign. All of these events are tied to feminism and women’s rights. As a woman, this was all important to me before the birth of my daughter, but knowing I will help to raise a new woman in society causes me to think even more about events such as these.

In addition to all the hopes new moms have for their children, I hope that my daughter is flagged as having leadership potential rather than being called bossy; I hope that my daughter is complemented not only on her sharp appearance but also on her intelligence, ingenuity, and strength; I hope that my daughter never desires to give up sports for fear of losing femininity and that she is never intimidated by the weight room in a gym; I hope that my daughter understands that her dad is just as important in raising her as I am; I hope that my daughter will not be afraid of her sexuality because of how the church presents (or doesn’t) the topic of sex and sexuality; I hope that my daughter does not think she has to give up any education or employment for her family but also that it is ok if she makes those choices for herself; I hope that my daughter understands that being a feminist does not mean being a man-hater; and I hope that my daughter comes to realize that her father being the spiritual leader of our household does not mean that her father thinks I am lesser than he.

Some find it difficult to reconcile being a Christ-follower and a feminist.I think the terms feminism and spiritual leadership have become so emotionally charged that people don’t always take the time to consider the actual concepts very carefully. In our home, my opinion matters when important decisions are made. I share my thoughts, my husband shares his, and we process together. At times, my husband defers to my opinion on something. Other times, he considers both of our opinions and makes a final decision. Spiritual leadership here means my husband is who will ultimately be responsible to God for our family. He will be responsible whether we agree, he defers to me, or we disagree and he makes a choice counter to what I think is best. Feminism is the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Could my husband abuse his position in our home in a way that would be oppressive to me? Of course, but his position does not mean that by definition.

We, as a society, reinforce or combat feminism in things as simple as the way we speak to our children and the choices we make in the home. Some families with stay-at-home moms only emphasize the same for their daughters, rather than professional trajectories. Boys are often not encouraged to develop things like cooking skills. We often compliment girls on physical appearance and boys on accomplishments. Most often, none of this is done with the intention of sexism, but it still occurs and can subtly perpetuate stereotypes. It is important that we identify valued characteristics and encourage all of them in our children of both sexes. Obviously, each person is not gifted in all areas, but a child’s sex should not define which characteristics they are encouraged to develop.

My daughter will grow up watching how my husband and I work together to consider decisions in our family. She’ll see me crossfit and weight lift and know that I hold a PhD in a field that uses applied statistics and computer programming. She’ll see me plan and prepare meals for our family, but also see how my husband helps with cleaning and cooking and other aspects of managing our home. Will we always get it right? Of course not, but awareness of sexism will help to assuage its effects. We’ll continue to learn as our daughter learns.

I hope that by the time my daughter enters the adult world, the media is filled with fewer incidences of gender inequality, but that won’t be true until those of us already participating in society stop perpetuating gender stereotypes and exploitation of women both inside and outside our homes. I also hope that when my daughter is older it will be normal to hear people say they are feminists and Christians.

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Breaking The Cycle

Dear Citizens,

With the recent fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18 year old from Ferguson, Missouri, and the brutal beating of Marlene Pinnock on the side of a Los Angeles freeway, one begins to wonder if police brutality is not unusual, as we previously thought, but has instead become the new social norm.  But, what if the relationship between police officers and people who happen to have a skin color other than white, has always been strained, and American citizens are just beginning to be made aware of this fact on a large scale? Social media has certainly made us all more aware that discrimination against minority groups continues to occur.  However, if we look into our own lives, I am sure we can all recall a moment where we were made aware of discrimination.

I remember when a coworker once told me about his experience with the police. Steve was thin, soft spoken, and Black. He told me that whenever he was pulled over while driving, regardless of the reason, he would roll his window down, remove the keys from the ignition, and raise his hands in the air, just so there would be no confusion when the officer approached his car window. Confusion? What sort of confusion could there be surrounding a traffic stop? Apparently, there was room for a lot. Steve’s experience, and that of many other minorities, raises many questions about our culture. How and why does this sort of discrimination still exist? Have we become caught up in a cycle that continuously perpetuates the oppression of minority groups through police violence and brutality? Bobbie Harro discusses these cycles of oppression in her text, “The Cycle of Socialization.” Harro writes that we are socialized from birth to subscribe to a specific set of social and cultural rules.  If we happen to be a member of a group that benefits from these social rules, “we may not notice that [the rules] aren’t fair. If we are members of the groups that are penalized by the rules, we may have a constant feeling of discomfort” (Harro).  My coworker Steve knows what it feels like to be a member of a group that is penalized by the “rules;” he feels the effects of racism in even the most mundane situations.

Unfortunately, a cycle in which police officers  use excessive force, or take unnecessary violent action in a situation, has been created in our society, and it became “normal” when we were no longer surprised to hear stories of police brutality on the news. Our reaction has instead become one of grim disappointment.  Harro writes that in situations like this, “it is easiest to do nothing, and simply allow the perpetuation of the status quo” (Harro). However, we cannot simply do nothing.  By continuing to participate in the cycle, with our silence confirming our participation, we “reinforce stereotypes, collude in our own demise, and perpetuate the system of oppression” (Harro).  No one person should live in a society that oppresses him or her. Michael Brown, Marlene Pinnock and my coworker were, and are, unfortunately, participants in a cycle in which they are the oppressed. Whether justified or not, should an unarmed, 18 year old boy have to die during an altercation with an officer? Was there something else the officer could have done to deescalate the situation before he decided to shoot to kill? Something needs to change, but what?

The first step in breaking this cycle, or any cycle, is to break the silence. We must begin to speak out against the things that we feel are corrupt.  As Harro states, “Our silence is consent” (Harro). We cannot simply sit back any longer. We cannot remain passive participants in a culture that demands activity. We must at least speak up and voice our concerns, even in the small, or seemingly innocent situations.  For example, next time someone makes a racist, or a derogatory joke about any social group, speak up. Tell them that what they are saying is inappropriate because these jokes say, “It’s okay to dislike or make fun of this group of people. Their feelings do not matter. Essentially, they do not matter.” When we perpetuate the idea that a particular group of people does not matter, we end up with situations like that in Ferguson. While you may not be able to convince the joke teller to change, you may be able to break the cycle for someone else. Maya Angelou once said, “ the plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstream.” Maya Angelou is right, and racism in the form of a “joke” is just one of many seemingly innocuous ways we continue to allow racism to be a part of our  cultural and personal “bloodstream.”

I have two friends, a couple, who took their son to the zoo. Laughingly, my friend recounted a situation that happened with her son and husband.  Some Mexican landscapers were working near an exhibit they were observing. Her husband said, “Look, and there you can see the Mexican in his natural habitat.”  I was horrified, and said so. She said, “No, it’s okay, we are Mexican, we can say those things.” No, you cannot. The rest of the day, every time their son saw a Mexican, he would mimic what his father had said. Through a joke, their son was being conditioned to believe that Mexicans are landscapers, and not only that, but that they are also like animals in a zoo.  This one joke had dehumanized a human being in the eyes of a child. You can see how the cycle of racism is perpetuated with the telling of a joke. Now, a young child, on some level, believes that an entire race of people is less than human. Had someone in the vicinity said something then, letting them know that the joke was inappropriate, what would have happened? Would the cycle have been broken? Maybe. Maybe a young boy would learn a lesson from a brave stranger who decided to speak up.  We should all strive to be that brave, because then maybe situations like the one in Ferguson will cease to occur.

Harro, Bobbie. The Cycle of Socialization. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print

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Our Stories Matter

It was a simple statement that didn’t need to be said. Some things are that way. So the after school moment of cleaning up an empty classroom was quietly interrupted with pink hair and youthful seriousness. I paused the music and made eye contact when she said, “I just want to thank you for talking about suicide with us. Nobody else does and it means a lot.”

She left as nonchalantly as she walked in. Quiet. Calm. Collected. A walk tinged with a life that very few will know the struggle of. An understanding that others are also experiencing the same struggles and together there is a fighting chance of surviving.

Innocently is how it all started. At Invisible Children’s “Fourth Estate” conference in the summer of 2013, many non-profit speakers and break-out sessions spread the word about helping others in a variety of life needs. They included Saving Innocence, The Giving Keys, Charity Water (which I love!), International Justice Mission and many others. One particular presenter, fresh off a sabbatical, struck a chord within me. That was how I really began to understand Jamie Tworkowski and his movement “To Write Love On Her Arms”.

According to their mission, “To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.”

And I don’t know why it was this year or this time, but when I saw the campaign from TWLOHA for Suicide Prevention Week, I felt compelled to get involved and bought a “kit” complete with wristband, shirt, and posters proclaiming, “No one else can play your part.” And maybe that was the calling, this phrase reminding me of my fortune. My struggles. My ability to work every day with youth who inspire me to be a better person. My appreciation of how difficult others can make our lives by the simple way they look at us, or judge us, or accept us. My knowledge of how intimately affected one can be in the face of mounting pressures, both real and imagined.

Suicide Prevention Week 2014 lasted the first full week of September with Wednesday, September 10 as Suicide Prevention Day. I made many “No one else can play your part” posters and more “No one else can play my part because…” fill in the blank posters for my students. Leading up to the week, I posted the papers and shared with each of my classes that we are here together for a reason and I am thankful they were given the schedule with my name in the slot for their teacher. On September 10, I shared Jamie Tworkowski’s message about life being significant and it ended with my personal message of reaching out to others when we know they need it. Let the suffering souls know that you notice them. That you are there. That you care. That together we can make a difference. And we did.

Now I see my students walk in with binders proclaiming “No one else can play your part.” They’ve written on posters what their part of life contributes to the lives of others. And more than that, I’ve seen those who didn’t think this type of awareness matter see on the faces of their peers that it does. The pain is real. The need is real. The stories are real.

So how do you fill in the answer on a page emblazoned with “No one else can play my part because…”? Mine stated, “…words make me feel alive.” And they do. Always. Because they become the stories. They become understanding. Inspiration. Peace. Bonding. Love. It’s through words that my meaning-making exists and finds sustenance. Mental food. Soul water. When the look between two who know says more than any words could.

This is more than a message, it’s a challenge. Tread lightly with what you say knowing the story of the listener is likely unknown. Stray from judgment. Stray from silence, understanding that our stories are real. They need to be shared. They matter.


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It Doesn’t Directly Affect Me, So Why Should I Care? – Apathy and Social Justice

I’ll admit that there was a period in my life when I pretty much avoided the news. It wasn’t because I was too busy or the news was too depressing, though that’s what I would sometimes say out loud. Instead, it was apathy. My mentality was that “those” issues just didn’t affect my life, so they didn’t matter. Wars across the globe, or injustices due to race and class in my own community, “didn’t directly affect me,” and I frankly didn’t really care. If I did happen to take in some news, I would comment on how sad an issue was and then turn off the TV or close the news article and move on with my life. Alternatively, I’d just flip over to the latest hit show and immerse myself in escapism, rather than wrestle with the truth of what I had just taken in. What I’ve learned is that many, if not all of those issues, did directly affect me. I just didn’t know it, or ignored it, or remained ignorant of it, because the way those things affected me were often by privilege. In many cases, I benefited from the injustice toward others (an example for a reader who may doubt this claim: Cheap goods available to me are often produced on the broken backs of sweatshop laborers in other countries). I’ve now come to a place where I’m uncomfortable and even ashamed with the comfort I had in that apathy.

I’m a middle-class, biracial female. I don’t have the full arsenal of privilege that my upper-class, white male friends have, but I will admit that I do hold quite a bit of privilege. Both of my parents and my spouse have college degrees. I am working on a terminal degree at a prestigious institution that essentially comes free to me. I have access to decent healthcare, feel safe most of the time, and even though I have debt, have never truly worried about how bills would be paid. My life has a notable amount of privilege. I could say “those” issues didn’t affect my life because my various sources of social, economic, and cultural capital protected me from being affected by them most of the time.

In all honesty, I truly believe there are folks who are simply unaware of their privilege. I hesitate to say “innocent” because I think it’s a responsibility to be aware of what privilege you have and to leverage that privilege to help others whenever possible. However, I know and was a part of systems that do not necessarily make folks aware of their own privilege, but instead simply reproduce the privileged structures from which these individuals came. They remain safely cocooned in that place of privilege and never really understand how privilege comes at the price for someone else.

All of this to say, social justice issues are everyone’s problem. If you are the oppressed, you are fighting a daily battle against injustice. If you are not oppressed, it is important to consider if you are somehow a part of or even an active player in being the oppressor. Even if we are not involved in the oppressive actions, it is our responsibility to consider ways we can use our own privilege to help fight these injustices. How do you spend your money and resources? Who benefits and who suffers as a result of the societal choices you make? How can you use your giftings to help change systems? How are you staying informed so that you can be a part of crucial conversations and use your democratic rights to influence the system? How can you raise awareness in your social circles? Social justice issues are systemic. They exist because those of us with power in the system allow them to be perpetuated. Considering these questions and others along these lines are first steps in changing the systems. It is why we write these letters; it is what we must do to ever see change.

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I sometimes wonder, if the Rwandan genocide had occurred this past April, as opposed to 20 years ago, what would social media look like? I wonder if it would #trend on twitter, or whether or not celebrities would hold up posters of a tiny African country the size of Maryland with bold typography that read #Genocide. I wonder if instagram feeds would be littered with selfies of users’ hands stamped with a red “G” instead of an “X”, bringing whole new meaning to the “End It” movement.

I don’t ask these questions to be morbid, twisted, or in the least bit insensitive. The country of Rwanda and its people is about as near to my heart as any country on earth, excepting the one of my birth. It’s inked into my skin and it’s certainly tattooed on my heart, which is exactly why when the #BringBackOurGirls began to trend on twitter (and facebook), I immediately thought of Rwanda.

In April of 1994, when a tribal-based ethnic cleansing began to sweep the green thousand hills of Rwanda, UN soldiers arrived, posted, and sat. Like sitting ducks. Like target practice, and indeed, some of them were killed in the line of fire, prohibited from firing back themselves. Foreign nations, and foreign policy, refused to label the slaughter of almost a million people in just about 100 days, a genocide. Once given that title, the UN is obligated to act. And well, no one wanted to get their hands dirty. TIA, (“This is Africa,” an expression used profusely in the DiCaprio film Blood Diamond about Sierra Leone) perhaps, is a good abbreviation to express the sentiment. I was 11 years old at the time, but I would venture to say most Americans, from 7 to 77, had little to no idea that across the Atlantic Ocean and the continent of Africa, neighbors were raising machetes, completely unstopped, and cutting down families they’d lived and farmed next to for generations.

Fast forward to the present. I am 30 years old, and 200 some odd girls have been captives to a terrorist regime for less than a week, and I know about it. It’s viral. And what’s even better? They’re African. Nigerian. Muslims and Christians. People. Their names are on a list. I can find them and pray for them and advocate for them. There has been a shift in the American’s response to outages occurring overseas, and say what you may about social media, this is one area in which we have taken a step in the right direction. It has become sort of “en vogue” to change profile pictures and create hashtags that raise the public conscience to a newer level of caring about people half a world away.

Now, as the linked article above mentions, there is definitely concern that the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has dwindled, and given way to other issues. This probably adds to the reasons why some see this “trend” in social media to be shallow, superficial, and “bandwagoney”. I suppose that could be true. But, I prefer to see this movement in social media to be uplifting, encouraging, and hopeful. Whether average Americans and celebrities just didn’t care about Africans 20 years ago, or they simply did not have access to media that would prompt their compassion, I am not sure. But,to be certain, twitter, facebook, instagram, even pinterest, are tools that on one hand seem middle schoolish and silly, but are actually quite capable of promoting good, and thus shaming evil. Where the world stood still 2 decades ago, it is now taking pictures, posting campaigns, sharing information, and overall, raising awareness for the plight of people and championing justice. If artists like Alicia Keys can use her instagram feed to not just promote herself, but also the safe return of kidnapped girls in Western Africa, I cannot help but appreciate her attempts, and feel heartened in general that the world I’m living now just might be more merciful than it was when I was a teenager, and THAT is a trend I am not sure many generations have had the privilege of “sharing.”

The hope is that as long as we don’t simply rest with the idea of “raising awareness,” but press doggedly forward to continue to see change come about, social media may just be the beginning of a massive world upset, a reality that is far more than just “likable.” And THAT is ALSO exactly where THE JUSTICE LETTERS comes in. We hope that in a world of social media, we can enter the blogosphere, and provide a space where voices can be heard championing the rights of the marginalized, the oppressed, or the forgotten and ignored, whether they are here in America, or across the oceans. We hope we can provide food for thought, fodder for change, and resources for further research. We hope to be advocates, empowerers, and writers of redemption, revolution, and human rights. We hope you will read our letters, and find your own way to write back hope, peace, and mercy to our cities, our nations, and our world.

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