Every Woman has a Story by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileRecently, Carol Christ wrote about her experience of being interviewed for the Women’s Living History project at Claremont Graduate University.  It is a project I have co-founded and am continuing to develop; I am grateful that Carol and others have offered their “herstories” to be archived.  While I am not a historian, I do have a strong interest in women’s stories and with important reason…if we do not tell our stories, who will?

I first became interested in oral history during my doctoral program when I took a course with Claudia Bushman focused on women’s autobiography.  It was a difficult time; my mother had passed away unexpectedly and I was consumed with grief.  Because her death was premature – she was only 56 years old – I hadn’t prepared to lose her. I thought I had years to figure out all the things I would want to remember and pass on about my mom.  Yet, she was gone and I could no longer ask her the many things I wanted to know, needed to know about her.  Parts of her story would be lost forever and I did not know how to cope with that. 

Claudia’s course offered me the opportunity to go back and explore my mother’s life, to learn her history.  Of all my mother’s possessions, what became the most important to me where her hand written notes, journal entries, poetry, and recipe books.  Food was a key way my mother expressed love and cooking with her is one of the fondest memories I have.  Her recipes, poetry, and notes were her creations – they were unique to her and with them I was able to craft a narrative that told my mother’s story; a story I could remember and pass on.  It was the most precious gift, one that was cathartic and allowed me to reconnect with my mother in a new way.

The Women’s Living History project was born from the idea that women’s stories are valuable and should not be lost once our physical lives end.  While it explores women’s lives in multiple contexts, an important focus of the project is on women’s stories related to religion.  Women are not only influenced by their religions, but also have a great impact on their traditions and that must be acknowledged and documented.

While the project is in its very beginning stages, we have collected more than 30 women’s stories that will be archived at CGU in Honnold Library and will also be connected electronically to the National Women’s History Museum.  With this project, women’s stories are being told in their own words and will be preserved.

I think it is easy for us each to become wrapped up in our daily lives and not take time to  acknowledge key moments.  However, our stories are important and deserve to be told.   We can preserve these stories in multiple ways and it is crucial that we take the time to do so.  I admit, I don’t always do it myself, but I try to keep up with journaling.  As of late, I am making an effort to write about my interactions with my daughter, something I want to share with her one day.  I also continue to write about my mom, craft her story, and continue our relationship.  And, I’ve begun to document my grandmother’s story.  At 86 years young, she has a rich history and in a short time I have come to know her as much more than my grandmother.  I had discounted her history without even realizing it.

Every woman has a story.  We each have a responsibility to craft our narratives, to make sure that our histories are not lost.  We so often discount our own experiences; as women it is what we are socialized to do.  And so, it is up to us to break that cycle, to affirm ourselves, and to tell our stories.

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is a Feminist theologian, ethicist, and activist.  She is Director of the Center for Women’s Interdisciplinary Research and Education at Claremont Graduate University, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics at Loyola Marymount University, and Co-founder and Project Weaver of Feminism and Religion. Gina has authored multiple articles and the forthcoming book Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence.  She is co-editor (with Rosemary Radford Ruether) of the forthcoming anthology, Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century and is a contributor to the Rock and Theology project sponsored by the Liturgical Press. Her research interests are theologically and ethically driven, involve a feminist and interdisciplinary approach, and are influenced by her activist roots and experience working with survivors of rape and domestic violence.  Gina can be followed on Twitter @FemTheologian and her website can be accessed at http://ginamessinadysert.com.

Categories: Herstory

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5 replies

  1. Hi Gina,
    Thank you for this post. I think this is a great project; as our stories can be powerful teachers. My first work towards becoming an ally to the LGBTQ community involved tracking down stories of how LGBTQ youth came out, and the response of their families. Sadly, many of these stories were of rejection and even suicide; but reading these stories really helped me to start to break away from my upbringing and affirm what I knew were healthy changes and realizations in my sister’s life.
    I actually wonder, did you know that the Queer Recourse Center at Claremont is doing a similar project right now? They are adding to an archive that already exists (I think), and interviewing LGBTQQIAA people for it. Appy’s working on this :)
    I also love that you talk about journaling here. I used to keep a journal… I am actually scared to think of what any children I might have would say about a journal of mine that they find! I started journaling during therapy, and was working through several abusive relationships… your post reminds me that it is important to keep track of the happiness in our lives as well.


    • Wow, Sara! How wonderful that you are sharing stories about LGBTQ youth and their families – what a very important project! I did not know about this project at the Queer Resource Center and will definitely find out more about it. Could be a great collaborative opportunity – and as women’s stories need to be told, of course stories of LGBTQ persons and other marginalized groups need the same care. I’m so glad you shared this!


  2. This is an important piece, Gina. Many thanks. It confirms my sense that your work is unique and necessary, and that the various venues where you do it– here, in film, on the history project– are all innovative approaches we need.
    Our stories do amaze. I suspect that while your mother died young we are lucky to have so much of her in you. And so it goes…


  3. Hi Gina, It is an important project and one that will be ongoing for a long time. Yes, if women do not take charge of their lives than who will? Our side of humanity’s history has been obfuscated for too long and we must fill in the huge gap not only for future generations of women, but also for a better understanding of ourselves and for the half of humanity that has had a voice, but one that in order to be complete needs this half of the puzzle to close the gap of understanding between the sexes in order to neutralize domestic and spiritual violence in all its forms and create a whole and healthy society!
    I am proud to be a part of this project.


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