My journey to becoming a religious feminist has been long. The two most significant experiences have been my time as a Religious Studies graduate student and the uniquely female health struggles I have experienced in the past four years. The issues I have encountered over the past four years have occurred simultaneously, encouraging me to declare Feminism as my new Religion.
I really hadn’t been exposed to Feminism as an academic discipline until my time at the Union Theological Seminary. Studying alongside feminist foresisters like Chung Hyun Kyung and Joan Chittister, and researching feminist liberation theology and other “radical” liberation theologies, fueled my passion. For my master’s thesis I examined how Catholicism and martyrdom should be perceived in modern times. I relied on the examples of two men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Pope John Paul II. Not a bad topic, not bad case studies, but interesting when I reflect on the choice to focus solely on men and martyrdom when really the face of modern martyrdom should be represented by women and the enormous sacrifices women make every day for the betterment of their Church or their families or their bodily health and integrity. In other words, I didn’t quite get it yet!
Nonetheless, my doctoral studies continued a focus on feminism and working along side Rosemary Radford Ruether guided me to my new feminist religious identity. At that time I did not realize how much I would come to rely on her support and encouragement, along with the support and encouragement of many other female faculty members.
A year or so in to my studies, I had my first cancer scare. A strange lump in my right breast had caused, overtime, the entire right side of my upper body to inflate like a strange, lopsided balloon. After about six months, incessant testing finally revealed the lump was benign and that all of these strange issues on the right side of my body had been caused by some insidious infection. After narrowly remaining afloat in graduate school, I persevered only to have my advisor leave the school, another advisor refuse to pass me onto my qualifying exams, and yet another advisor left not just the school but the country. All the while more health issues were popping up. I was having severe moods, excessive weight gain, and difficulty remembering simple things like my zip code or my parent’s address. After three separate doctor’s visits with, coincidentally, all male doctors, I was told to try Weight Watchers and play games on the computer to help improve memory. The feeling that I was not right in my own body and the ensuing panic that no one would listen to or believe me when I said I felt like there was some significant problem with my health lasted a painful two and a half years. I finally found a doctor who ran a series of blood tests and uncovered that I had severe hypothyroidism, anemia, and an extreme vitamin D deficiency. At long last, I was on a journey to wellness, health, and Ph.D. completion…or so I thought.
About a year later, my dissertation was finally complete; I had graduated and was beginning to seek out the career of my dreams. However, much to my utter dismay, I began to experience familiar feelings of fatigue, short temperedness, discomfort, and pain. This time, however, the discomfort was located in and around my stomach. After significant testing, two sizable tumors were discovered on both ovaries. During the time of diagnosis I was acting as Teaching Assistant for Grace Kao’s Feminist Ethics course. In my estimation, this was no coincidence. The issues addressed during the course were so relevant to my own experience, I couldn’t help but reflect on the roles women had in my life over the past four years and how feminism was the reason I could be successful as a woman. It became clear to me that feminism was the reason I was able to have a successful surgery and receive a benign diagnosis. When my breast infection went undiagnosed for so long, I thought about how women’s health issues are often downplayed and not taken seriously. When my male doctor wouldn’t believe me when I told him that something else was wrong, I went to a female doctor who eventually provided a diagnosis. When I was told for the second time in four years that I might have cancer, this time ovarian, it was women who rallied around me, supported me, offered me prayers and promise. After years of being invisible, rarely taken seriously and utterly abandoned not once but three times, it was the female faculty who came to my aid, supported me, joyfully helped me reach my goal. It took me longer than most, but at long last I was starting to understand feminism.
Feminism is the reason I was able to complete my Ph.D. Feminism is the reason I get to live healthfully another day. Feminism is the reason the medical profession takes women’s health issues more seriously today. Feminism is the reason I get to realize my goals and it is the reason I experience the privilege of sharing my experience with others. Without the support of women, I truly would not be here reflecting on the past few years of my academic and personal life. It is with this realization that I come to the end of my journey happily, healthfully humbled. Feminism is my new religion.
Michele Buscher, PhD, received her degree from the Claremont Graduate University in 2013. Her PhD is in Religious Studies with an emphasis on Theology, Ethics and Culture. Her dissertation titled, Commission Impossible: The International Religious Freedom Act and its Impact on U.S. Foreign Policy with Particular Reference to Iraq and Burma, 1999-2012 explores the relationship between the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and current U.S. foreign policy abroad. She is interested in the role religion plays in the development of U.S. foreign policy particularly in the Middle East and how this contributes to human rights. Additionally, her scholarly interests include Feminist Theologies and Modern Catholic Studies. She received her BA from Seattle University in Creative Writing and her MA from Union Theological Seminary in Theological Studies. Michele works at Pitzer College as the Language & Cultural Lab Coordinator, Instructor for the International Fellows Program and Program Coordinator for the Kobe Women’s University visiting Cultural Program.