This post is written in conjunction with the Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue project sponsored by Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Lincoln University Consortium, Claremont Graduate University, and directed by Grace Yia-Hei Kao.
Hannah Heinzekehr is a second year Masters student at Claremont School of Theology, studying theology and community development. She also works as a Church Relations Associate for Mennonite Mission Network. She enjoys cooking with and for friends, watching and playing sports (especially soccer), drinking coffee and talking about the future of the Mennonite Church.
Feminism is not a word or a movement that I came to easily. In fact, in an article that she wrote for a Mennonite women’s publication when I was 15, my mom noted that I had chosen to reject the word feminism, because it carried too much baggage and wasn’t relevant to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about women’s issues. On the contrary, I was very aware of some of the difficulties that faced my mother when she decided to become a pastor, I felt free to use gender neutral and feminine language for God (for awhile, my favorite image of the Divine was a large oak tree with a swing for me to sit in), and I had an inkling that the discourses I heard at regional church youth rallies about modesty and sexuality seemed to be directed particularly towards women. But I didn’t feel that I needed feminism, because sexism didn’t seem to limit any of my opportunities. The fact that I felt this sense of “limitlessness” is a testament to the work of previous waves of feminism, and to the community that I grew up within. It is also likely a function of my privilege as a white, middle-class child and teenager, who wasn’t constrained by other forms of oppression. I moved through college feeling affirmed by fellow students, faculty and staff. I found that I had access to leadership opportunities and was well-respected in the classroom.
However, this would change for me when I entered the work world. Shortly after my graduation, I was hired by Mennonite Mission Network, our denomination’s service and mission agency. Although I was robustly encouraged by my supervisors, I slowly began to notice some trends. I realized that, when I was traveling, there were still many churches that would not invite me to preach because they did not believe that a woman belonged behind the pulpit. I noticed that in meetings with executives or church leaders, certain types of language and behavior were privileged above others, and that if a man paraphrased an idea I had just shared, it was often received with more enthusiasm. I noticed that if I was too assertive, people might start to place labels on me. Although my direct supervisor was female, I began to notice that much of the leadership of the church was both male and white. I was shocked. These were the issues that second wave feminism had combated and that I had thought irrelevant for my generation.
At about the time when I was sensing the need to begin articulating some of these disparities out loud, and perhaps experiencing a “feminist awakening” within myself, my agency paid for me to attend Damascus Road training, a three-day event focusing on anti-racism work. It was here that, for the first time, I began to understand what the term “systemic oppression” meant on an emotional, and not just intellectual, level. And I began to realize that for many of my peers and co-workers, sexism was not the only binding factor in our workplace and throughout the church. As Patricia Hill Collins describes, there is a “matrix of domination” where issues of oppression including race, gender, sexuality, class and others intersect.
I returned to work ready to start addressing these issues, but unsure where to begin. Thankfully, several of my co-workers were just pushing our department to begin a project that analyzed the written, web and audiovisual communication that our agency produced. There was recognition that even though our models for church and mission had shifted, the words and images that we were using in publications still reflected colonial, racist and sexist sentiments. These sentiments were not appearing intentionally, but were products of the implicit systems of racism and sexism that operate within the church and broader society. As a rhetorical communications major in college, I already believed that language played a role in constructing reality, but this project was the first time when I analyzed concretely what was being constructed by my own discourses.
In this process, consultants, people of color and women from across our denomination, were invited to look at the publications that we put out, and to give feedback. Our department worked with these individuals to develop a process for continuing accountability: each of our projects is reviewed by an anti-racism consultant, and any time that we quote someone, we don’t publish anything until that individual approves the way their voice is represented.
We also worked together to produce a manual for institutional communication called Shared Voices (I was primarily involved in the construction of the 2nd edition of this manual). Since its publication, this manual has been a permanent fixture on my desk: reminding me to ask myself how I am appropriating people’s words in my writing, to think about who I am ascribing agency to, and to remember that the opportunity to be published brings with it power that needs to be shared. Seeking shared voices meant helping to create spaces where individuals could share their own stories in their own words. In my journalism classes in college, we were taught how to write quickly and to focus on developing our own unique synthesis of material that would catch people’s attention. Going through the process of work with Shared Voices has reminded me that good journalism must also be about listening and reciprocity, too.
The process of developing Shared Voices was a key moment in my own development. Given this background, I was glad to encounter the 1992 roundtable conversation on appropriation and reciprocity. This conversation was asking questions of how feminist/womanist/mujerista scholars can engage and use each other’s work responsibly and respectfully. As Jewish feminist scholar Judith Plaskow notes, appropriation and reciprocity are issues that involve power, and I must be careful to write and engage in ways that do not “swallow up and render invisible” my partners on this journey.
19 thoughts on “Seeking Shared Voices By Hannah Heinzekehr”
It is indeed a testament to those who have toiled before us that you did not experience sexism all throughout your formative and even college years. But what a rude awakening, no? when you started working.
I’m looking forward to hearing your comments in class re: the appropriation and reciprocity articles. Great post!
Hi Dr. Kao – Thank you for your comments and affirmation. Yes, you are right. It was a very rude awakening to discover sexism at play not only in my workplace, but within my church, which had and has been a very important community for me. One thing that I found interesting, in reading Ruth Marston’s post from yesterday, was that we described very similar upbringings: feminist parenting, mother’s whose job opportunities/earning potential was hindered by gender, and broad awareness of unequal gender standards throughout the communities we lived in.For Ruth, this upbringing led her to claim her identity as a feminist, and to pursue feminist and women’s studies. For me, this meant that the work of feminism was done or somehow irrelevant to me.
Jaji’s comments below get at these ideas too, but it does make me wonder whether I am more of an individualistic Millenial than I have previously thought (I usually characterize myself as more of a late Gen X-er). In this case, I could not see the need for activism or work against structural oppressions until I myself felt directly limited by them, and this would serve as the gateway through which I could move to become an ally and advocate. Interesting.
A lovely reflection – on the different “lessons” learned by you and Ruth, despite similar upbringings. My husband and his younger brother are six years apart. We concluded long ago that while they were raised by the same parents and lived in the same house in the same town, they did NOT have the same experiences…
Most schools are not going to be overtly hostile to women. Most jobs will reveal themselves as controlled by male institutions for the benefit of males. Lesbian friendly spaces within heterosexuality-land– pretty much non-existent.
The key to maintaining male surpremacy and heterosexuality itself, is to constantly delude the young. Make their early years less “overtly” oppressive. Only on the job front does the real bait and switch become apparent to the next generation of women. And perhaps this can only reveal itself fully to women when they get older. As a lesbian, I never did have to get older, I knew front and center that I was battling an enemy, and that no compromise was going to placate these oppressors. But het women, they fall for this bait generation after generation… this mass delusion of the heterosexual woman won’t end until there is massive visibility within these systems of lesbians, and a strong resurgence in radical lesbian feminism.
You can’t liberal it down, you can’t compromise with it, you can’t have half baked “equal opportunity” photos on the web. My company, supremely male dominated and woman demeaning has loads of photos of happy Black couples in its brochures… it is such a lie, I find it amusing.
It’s truly scary to read these posts, truly scary indeed. Surely we can have more diversity of opinion outside the confines of an ethics class at Claremont, surely!
Just came across a quote or two from Catherine A. MacKinnon that I think addresses the shortcomings of thinking that academic women get stuck in often…. and the rather bland “equality” woman musings of this blog.
“We’re now in a stage where people want to believe that there is equality. They’d rather deny inequality than face it down so that they can actually live it. My task is to support their belief in that equality while at the same time unmasking everything around them that is making it impossible for them actually to live in it.”
Part II of MacKinnon:
“I think only because it’s men doing it against women that it isn’t seen as a war.” (The “it” is men committing systematic violence against women, which is to say, anti-woman warfare.)
A college education for young women does everything in its power to “mask” the inequality, and this is the true genius of the 5000 year old system known as patriarchy. I’d say the education of young women is the con job of the era, and the point is to make women themselves become nervous at being called “feminists”– what the real terror tactic actually is that young straight women don’t want to be “labeled” lesbians. So not wanting to be a feminist is code for not wanting to be a lesbian. I think that little patriarchal trap has been set neatly.
If patriarchy can make young het women believe in this so-called equality in college, the stage is set. Religion and it “attractions” to young women who may fear the hard sciences or the more overtly woman hating environments of engineering departments is the perfect method of pacification. Church jobs and theology degrees seem to be doing this as well.
Throwing a few pastoral bones to women is another tactic. But it is all in service to a “kinder gentler male hetero god, and a hetero system.” It poses no threat whatsoever… kind of the way “gay” (read white male privilege machine) marriage poses no threat to male supremacy either. It’s just an escape valve, or a pacifyer, but marriage itself has never really changed any world as we know it.
Maybe a bit off topic here, but this accomodationist hetero writing is kinding of driving me nuts here. Where are the lesbian in your face radicals who can stand up and be counted? Where are the non-academics?
Hi Turtle Woman – Thanks for reading my blog and offering your comments. It is clear that our movement towards feminism was shaped by very different realities and experiences of oppression, and I want to acknowledge that my own slow journey to feminism was both the product of the subtle, sneaky workings of systems of oppression, and also my own privelege in many other settings as well.
I appreciate the quotes you offer from McKinnon, and, in fact, I want to emphasize that my own work is very much pointed towards trying to undermine these systems of opression. I in no way believe that we have already arrived at equality and the work is done. My choice to remain within Mennonite Church USA and to work there is one that I have made very conciously, because I believe that as a young woman, I have a voice and a perspective to offer that the church could benefit from. I also believe that, in my role as a church relations person, I can help to create spaces for others who have been oppressed by patriarchy, racism and heterosexuality to speak their own words of truth, and thus open up possibility for movement. I still have hope that the church can be a powerful participant in the work of social justice and change.
I could have chosen to study science and math at a higher level – I was able to pursue these topics in school and to receive good grades in them. But for me, in a country like the United States, where religion has been so inherently woven into the fabric of politics and daily lives, working with the church and theology seemed to be of the utmost importance. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.
Hannah, I think you raise some very important points about awareness, both self-awareness and awareness of the the world spinning around the self. We must understand that our backgrounds have infused us with certain preconceived notions of reality, of our world and how we fit into it. We can examine those preconceptions and hopefully throw out those that inhibit our future learning, that close us off to the realities of others, or to avenues rife with opportunities for our own moral and intellectual advancement/exploration. Sometimes I scare myself, however, by asking the question: How do I know which preconceptions are positive and which are a hindrance? Given that I can only approach an idea or perspective from within my own mind, how do I know I’m not favoring my own perspective and being prejudiced toward a new or different perspective? Objectivity is inevitably illusive to humans, though I think in attempting a degree of objectivity, we open ourselves to others’ perspectives as much as possible.
I use the following as an example: My husband and I enjoy watching “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” on the Food Network, and we love challenging each other: “would you eat it?” Both of us are pretty adventurous and love trying new things, so I’d say 97% of the time, both of us say, “yes, I’d eat it.” Sometimes, one of us will say, “yes, I’d eat it, but only one bite and it probably wouldn’t last long in my stomach.” However, there are a few times we’ll say, “there’s no way I’d eat that.” The last time I remember saying the latter was when Andrew Zimmern took a bite of a still-beating goat’s heart. Granted, he had a hard time keeping it down for very long. But he ate it! I just don’t think I could. Anyway, my point is this: people who were born and raised eating raw goat’s heart, to whom raw goat’s heart is a delicacy, a special treat because they don’t get to eat meat very often, even an honor saved for guests or people of privilege, the question is not whether or not they would eat it, but rather, who gets to and when? Maybe, the next day, after having met Andrew Zimmern, the people of that Saharan tribe laughed at the absurdity of throwing up a goat’s heart.
I always try to shift out of my comfort zone and into a perspective very different from my own. Today I tried to imagine myself a Filipino who would find eating balut (a hard-boiled, fertilized duck egg… ie. containing the duck fetus with wings, beak, feet, etc.) an everyday, delicious protein experience. I could see it. Walking down the street and thinking, “hmm, I’m hungry. Thank goodness I’m in Pateros, just outside of Manila in the Philippines, where balut is at its best!” And then I wondered if a native Paterosian would find it weird that Americans refrigerate eggs.
Jaji – Thanks for your comments and your reflections on objectivity and normalcy. I think you are right, and sometimes I can lose myself in this line of questioning as well. In my above response to Dr. Kao’s comment, I was reflecting on the fact that in her previous post, Ruth Marston described her own “feminist upbringing,” and it actually sounded very similar to mine. However, whereas Ruth moved out of this setting and labeled herself a feminist, I rejected this label because it didn’t seem to apply to me personally. So the question of how things signify and how we live into/experience terms and labels is a very interesting one, and seems even to point back to our class discussions about naming and labeling.
Your note on perspectives is also fascinating. For me it raises the tricky question of whose job it is to point out racism or isms when they arise. In many of my religious education classes, we have talked about the fact that it should not just be the job of the oppressed party (whatever shape that might take) to point out the ways that oppression is operating. Rather,when we have power in a situation, it can be important for us as allies to name what we see as problematic and to use our power to help make changes. However, as you point out, somtimes what seems disgusting/inappropriate to one person, may be culturally/contextually situated and normative for someone else. For me right now, the key is to be in relationship with those who I am working with and who are directly affected, so that we can talk through situations together, and engage in community discussions about how situations manifest themselves. But i know that interpersonal relationships with everyone affected by systems is not true, and sometimes national and international activism can be more effective than working in small, local communities.
I think that you have highlighted a very complex issue!
Hannah. Thanks for sharing. You raise some excellent points. I’ve lived in places that have been extremely patriarchal, but I don’t think it’s ever bothered me so much as it does here. Maybe it’s because coming here to focus on feminist studies in religion, that I expected to be coming to a place where these gender differences no longer existed. In my mind, CA was supposed to be a beacon of equality, especially after living in the MIdwest, the South and then Eastern Europe. But I see the same things you describe in my own communities. I’m glad you found a small space within your work that abandons the biases you see in the leadership and churches you work with. I think the concept of shared voices is so important for women and feminism. Whether or not we adopt the title of “feminist” participating in works like this and coming to together in shared community is at the core of what feminism is about for me. Thanks for the reminder that “Seeking shared voices [means] helping to create spaces where individuals could share their own stories in their own words.” Great post.
Thanks Katrina! It does seem like, more and more, I begin to notice “ism’s” at play all over the place, which makes sense, given the fact that they are intricately (and sneakily!) woven into our societies. For me, the big question that still remains is what it actually looks like to create “democratic spaces,” to use bell hooks’ terminology. For hooks, these are not safe spaces, but places where people can grapple with and talk honestly about the dynamics of systemic oppression. I agree with this idea, but I do still think that there need to be concrete ways to address privelege and to shape a classroom, church meeting, etc. in order to take into account historic dynamics and patterns (hooks definitely acknowledges this too). But it is hard to know how these spaces can be effective and function when they are surrounded by other cultural influences pressing in. I am guessing working to create these spaces will be a lifelong project, for myself and for many others, and finding dialogue partners to walk with will be of great importance.
Thank you for this post! I think you did a wonderful job creating the correlation between your real life experience and connecting it with ‘Appropriation and Reciprocity’. The journey so far this semester in learning about feminist ethics has layers of depth I can see how it’s possible to use certain theories and/or ideas and not always give credit to where credit is due! Your post and this week’s readings establish a sense of awareness and mindfulness to keep the circle of knowledge and wisdom constantly moving and yet linking any ‘acquired’ information to the originators. Thank you Hannah!
Thank you, Valentina! I am excited to explore these ideas further in class, because I think the questions of appropriation and reciprocity are so key to how we can work together within women’s movements. If these basic tenets aren’t attended to, a whole project can be undermined!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience of your feminist awakening and your commitment to engaging with others with respect and reciprocity. It’s so interesting to read the comments here. What strikes Turtle Woman (and other radical feminists, I imagine) as scary and accomodationist strikes me as wonderfully progressive and hopeful. Only in my wildest dreams would my church make the same efforts yours does in soliciting feedback on its publications from women and minorities in efforts to eliminate sexism and racism. Is there more to do? I’m sure there is, but I personally find it hopeful to see churches making efforts to address issues of sexist and racial oppression. As my spouse often says about our own church, an institution is like an ocean liner — it takes a long long time for it to change directions. But it sounds like the Mennonites are pointing in a more positive direction and aiming for change, and for that, I am heartened.
Hi Caroline – Thanks so much for reading the blog and for your comments. It has been really interesting to learn from you this semester about the feminist movements are developing within the Mormon church. I have to confess that I am not very knowledgable about the Mormon tradition and its beliefs and practices. And I agree with you: there is certainly much more that the Mennonite church must do in order to address systemic oppression, but the fact that I have seen this movement is very heartening to me, and it gives me the energy and encouragement that I need in order to continue working within the church.
And it’s funny that you mention the slowly changing nature of institutions, especially churches. On my very first year-end evaluation at work, my supervisor wrote, “Hannah is passionate about change and about making the church a more inclusive place, which is wonderful. But we must continually remind Hannah that change, especially in the church, is slow, and it will be important to celebrate the small victories along the way.” I hear this comment, and I agree that I must be patient, but I am always wary of statements like this that may have the reverse affect of passifying or frustrating people. For me, it is always difficult to figure out the right balance of pushing for change and affirming what’s already happening.
Thanks again for your comments!
Your thoughtful reflection on your “feminist awakening,” inspired me to reflect upon my own feminist awakening. In my own family context, I was raised to be what I might term today with scare quotes “gender blind.” The basic point was this: men and women were people, and they should all be treated equally. This kind of humanism (or generic “liberalism) often led me to ally myself with feminist causes, although I viewed feminism with suspicion for often being “attached” to gender differences. For instance, I saw affirmative action (of any sort, based on gender, race, ethnicity, etc.) as problematic exactly because I thought at the time that it defeated the goal of equality because it was not blind to differences. In a undergraduate New Testament course, I argued against (rather vehemently, as I recall) Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s hermeneutical strategies. I said her method was sexist. My first girlfriend asked me to adopt the “practice” of opening doors for her, and I got frustrated when my second girlfriend got upset at me for doing that very thing. I was “blind” to the fact that women actually could be different! Surprise! ;)
I am unsure if I ever had a moment (or even a localized group of moments) of awakening; the emergence of my feminist consciousness must have been gradual and slow. A large part of this awakening came from (very patient) feminists in my life. To a lesser degree, I imagine my own commitment to “radicality” (since my childhood) also helped. I’ve always had a habit of looking for more and more radical ideas (for all sorts of reasons, I imagine), and so gradually I adopted more radical feminist ideas. This led to almost comical situations – I once got in a theological argument with my spouse about the possibility of queer images of God. I argued that utilizing queer images of God (i.e. God as lesbian) was a necessary and just project within Christian discourse. And yet, I’m not sure, if you had asked in those moments, if I would have identified as a feminist!
Of course, as is generally true in my life, my practice took (still takes!) a long time to catch up with my theory. The truth is that I still aspire to experience new feminist awakening, moment to moment. As a man especially, I have much to be woken up to. And yet, lately, my project has been to try my hardest to prevent guilt from being the center part of “my” feminism. After all, I look back at many of the moments I describe above with a great deal of shame. It is important for that shame not to rule me, for at least two reasons. First, such shame might lead me to think that I have “overcome” sexism today, something that is obviously and verifiably false. Today, despite and because of my mistakes, I can say that, in my feminism, I aspire to be a better feminist day-to-day. Second, by primarily focusing on my guilt, I problematically remain the only subject in my relationship to feminism. Here, your points about reciprocity and listening are well-taken and extremely valuable.
And so, perhaps the best way to conclude my own reflection (after blabbing so much about myself), then, is to return to yours. I am blessed for having the opportunity to listen to your own feminist awakening and reflections, and even more blessed to be your partner in this thing called feminism. As always, thank you, my friend, for sharing your voice.
Drew – Thank you for sharing your own story of “feminist awakening.” It was fascinating to read! It would be interesting sometime to get some friends together for dinner and to invite each of us to share our tales of awakening (feminist and in other ways, too). I don’t really believe that we all have “crisis conversions,” but that we are always on a journey of what it means to live into these identities, movements, etc, and I think it is powerful to share those stories.
I also have appreciated along the way your own struggles and insights into what it means to be a feminist man. I am a firm believer that guilt – whether white, male, heterosexual, etc. – is not productive. While it may be a phase that we must experience in order to understandt he ways that we are priveleged, it is not a powerful position/location from which to affect chage. Instead, I think that guilt often stops us from engagingquestions of difference at all, which means that we miss the many rich gifts that diversity has to offer (as Isasi-Diaz notes). Just last week I was a member of a panel of women on race and gender that spoke to an undegraduate class at Azusa Pacific University. One of the fellow members of my panel, Chris Hong, said that more than white activism and/or guilt, she hopes for solidarity and friendship. I found this to be a helpful distinction. Thanks again for sharing!
Call me a turtle, but I still fail to see how making less than the man, and doing the bulk of the childcare was part of feminism. You can be a feminist, but this is the role women have played for eons.
How is it feminist? Just because a woman does something doesn’t make it feminist. I can do all kinds of things, but I wouldn’t call it feminist. I would call it doing stuff.
Just like men can sign up and join the militiary and go over and kill people in other lands… the guy might be a great guy, and might say he is a feminist, but again the actual role itself is traditional, it is not different, it doesn’t change the social structure. Radical feminism is not the same as liberal feminism, nor is being a wife and mother particulary radical. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s not.
The mainstream way of life is just that mainstream. I personally think that it would be almost impossible for women to gain liberation worldwide doing this work. There is no evidense that things have changed radically when women get paid less and do the bulk of the childcare. All necessary tasks to be sure, and admirable if done well, but it is not visionary or world changing. It is simply a status quo position. Don’t know why this should cause such shock here.
You may see some vision in the childcare policies of Sweden, and countries more advanced in women’s freedom than the U.S. A move for women to really create a Sweden here would be radical indeed, but being in an individual nuclear family unit where one partner has the bulk of the economic power through income is dangerous for women. Very dangerous indeed, and to not say this… well silence never saves any of us does it?
So if you don’t want me to point this stuff out, that’s fine. I get it. But I won’t ever say something is feminist or world changing when it’s mainstream. That’s just not my place in the world to do so. That job is filled by the mainstream 24/7, but it is not my job to say that that is feminist.
And I do want you to count the total posts here and the number of academics vs. non-academics writing. The numbers usually reveal what the agenda is. So if it’s mostly an academic pat on the back type of thing, let the public know. But if it is truly feminism in all its specular and revolutionary potential, as well as practicality… well go for it then.
My educated guess is that 90% of the written material here is from academics. Do you want non-academics to add an outside perspective? Do you want other radical lesbian feminist commentators here? Be clear. To quote Nancy Reagan… just say … :-)
I want to start off by saying that the written material on this blog is from upcoming, current, new, and veteran scholars in the fields of feminism and religion. The blog also houses activists, speakers, and other members a part of the various communities and EVERYONE’s voice is valid here.
Although you are correct in stating that most of us are linked to an institution in some way or another, we are actually living and breathing feminism in our daily lives OUTSIDE of the classrooms and that, as you can see in most of the blog posts, comes out very eloquently in each post and comment.
There is NO “agenda” (read: “gay agenda” as some conservative political pundits like to use in their own commentary) on this blog.
The blog seeks to promote active dialogue and create and strengthen a community of individuals who are dedicated to equality on all levels whether it be “feminist” or not.
RE: Not everyone is comfortable with the label feminist. Not everyone is AS CLEAR, as you are with labeling themselves as “radical lesbian feminist commentators” or just feminists in general. Your opinions are valid and I appreciate what you have to say but please remember that this blog serves as a communal and empowering space for women and men to discuss feminism and religion and to work out issues and/or experiences they have or have had in their lives with a community of scholars who are further into their careers or just getting started.
Thank you for sharing your experiences and reflections. I loved the way you connected your experience with the publications from the Mennonite church to our course readings. Appropriation and reciprocity is something that not only needs to happen within academic feminist writing – but as you pointed out, within the manual published from the Mennonite church. I find it interesting within your family context and college context you felt feminism was not relevant until you started working for your church. For me, I never knew what feminism really was until I began college and then found it very helpful and liberating to address the very much non-feminist context in which I grew up. I’m glad to know that you have found support within the work/church environment and that the Shared Voices project arose out of that. Your story helps remind us all that systematic oppression still exists within many contexts and also that despite what some may think – a feminist’s work is never done. Thanks again for sharing.