Exploring the F-word in religion at the intersection of scholarship, activism, and community.
Author: Michele Stopera Freyhauf
Michele Stopera Freyhauf is a Doctoral Student in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a Member of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University as well as an Instructor at John Carroll University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies. Michele has an M. A. in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carroll University, and did post-graduate work at the University of Akron in the area of History of Religion, Women, and Sexuality. She is also a Member-at-Large on the Student Advisory Board for the Society of Biblical Literature and the student representative on the Board for Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society (EGLBS). Michele is a feminist scholar, activist, and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia” and lectured during the Commission for the Status of Women at the United Nations (2013). Michele can be followed on Twitter @msfreyhauf and @biblicalfem. Her website can be accessed here and is visible on other social media sites like LinkedIn and Google+.
Moderator’s note: This marvelous FAR site has been running for 10 years and has had more than 3,600 posts in that time. There are so many treasures that have been posted in this decade. They tend to get lost in the archives. We are beginning this column so that we can revisit some of these gems. Today’s blogpost was originally posted August 23, 2012. You can visit it here to see the original comments.
Just when you think you have heard it all, here we go again – another politician with “open mouth-insert foot” syndrome. Discussing his zero-tolerance policy for abortion, Missouri Representative Todd Akin made the following statement last Sunday about pregnancies that result from rape:
“from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
Once again it is time for another blog post, and once again I find it difficult to write. The news embroils you in a landslide of negativity and you feel like all common sense and rationality has dissipated – I even made the comment that I am glad I am not young because I fear the state of the world in the future.
With that said, the one thing discussed and needs to be discussed is the #MeToo movement. First, yes, I have several stories, and yes, I stayed silent for over 25 years. Did I attempt to resolve the issues with the remedies available? Yes. Did I suffer backlash? Yes. To the detriment of losing my job? Yes. Did I consult an attorney? Yes. What was I told – move on or risk being blacklisted from your field – as a new career professional in her twenties, there was no choice? Yes. Did it happen again? Did I out of fear, just try to stay away from the person but never reported it? Yes. Continue reading “#MeToo by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”
These days I find it hard to write – I feel plagued with negativity, and the news and violence and overall hateful actions of others have weighed deeply on my soul. While I personally am ready to celebrate a milestone birthday, am another year closer to completing my Ph.D., witnessed the graduation of one daughter, experienced the independence of another, a milestone for my twins, as well as my father’s successful completing of another orbit around the sun after a year plagued with health issues – rather than joy, my heart is filled with pain – pain of the election, pain of the failure of our political system’s supposed checks and balances, pain of violence and bigotry like that enacted in Charlottesville, pain of terror attacks in England, Spain, Finland, France, etc. Where we ought to be united, we are divided. Thus, I write from a place of remembering – a place of strength – a place to say I count (as you count) – and I begin this blog in the voice of Enheduanna, where she becomes the first voice in history to reveal herself – her name, by simply stating – – “I AM.” Continue reading “In the Words of the First Poet and Historian: “I am” by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”
If you are like me, today (and most days lately) it is difficult to be positive in a world that seems so full of hate. In fact, I struggled with a topic to write about because, in all honesty, it is hard to see the greener grass from where I sit – with all of the hatred spilling out in neighborhoods, churches, schools, and college campuses – even between family and friends. As I scrolled through Facebook, I came across a video and was struck by its message – we must be relentless in our kindness otherwise evil will win.
“Relentless” is a word that currently echoes through the United States –on both sides of the aisle. We have been relentless in raising our voice – writing, calling, e-mailing, visiting, marching – expressing our unhappiness with the current President and all that is happening in the White House.
Instead of struggling to find the words, I share the video and offer a transcript.
If you are like me, you are still reeling from the election results in the United States – trying to make sense of it, while at the same time going through the steps of mourning. As I write this, it is difficult to call our country United – because it is anything but. In reality, we have become the Divided States of America – and worse, we have had friendships lost and detachments with relatives over this election. And I guess I could say, what’s even worse – we learned about the bigotry and viewpoints of people we used to consider friends or even learned this about family members, even spouses.
When one mourns, it is to cope, heal, and to express the loss of love. However, I think we should stop or never approach the final stage of acceptance; rather, I think we need to be vigilant.
Back in the early 1930s, there was a person considered to be powerful and charismatic, and much like Trump, beyond reproach. Hungering for change, a promise was made to the disenfranchised for a better life and to make the country glorious (or great). Even with losing about 2 million votes from the previous election in July 1932 (a number that ironically is the estimated spread of popular votes Hillary won over her opponent), a coalition with Conservatives was made in January 1933, a man named Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor – head of the German Government – the proclaimed savior of a nation. Racism and authoritarian ideas, basic freedoms were abolished, forcing parties into goals, abolishing trade unions – the world saw the move from democracy to a dictatorship and the loss of privacy and use of terror used to achieve goals became the new norm.
Earlier this week, social media was all abuzz about the Pope’s investigation into restoring women to the diaconate. In the complete transcript of the Pope’s comments, the traditional notion of women’s maternal role in the church is mentioned in relation to the Church. Certainly this is nothing new. Here the Pope describes important “maternal” work such as working with the marginalized, catechesis, and caring for the sick – once again, nothing new.
However, in the next sentence, a very subtle shift is seen when it comes to normative gender roles:
…. there are men who do the same [work as consecrated women], and it is good…..and this is important.
What does this mean – a change in language? a laying of groundwork? or nothing at all?
It is no secret that cultural constructs of women as maternal and how a mother is defined as or even does has radically changed in today’s society; but, the Church continues to remain steadfast in normative roles between the priesthood and the “motherhood” of the Church (and therefore “motherhood” in general).
They always say in writing – use a title and the first few sentences to grab attention and the reader will want to see what you have to say. By my title, you have probably ascertained that I have made reference to a couple things: Wonder Woman, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” and traction. While lately, I have suffered from writer’s block and lack of time to work on my writing, I have also found myself in another place of suffering that has me in traction at least thrice weekly.
It is in that spirit that I reflect on my former status as the infallible wonder woman – the mom of 4, who works full time, teaches, writes, supports her family, is in the middle of writing a dissertation and who started this new year as my year to “Lean In” and really excel in my career – to the current status of fallible woman, mom of 4 trying to stay afloat in all of her obligations, dealing with difficult sibling and teenage bantering as well as (thanks to a begging daughter spouting promises of responsibility) a Siberian Husky puppy and a resident 10 year-old Boston Terrier who now demonstrates the epitome of love-hate relationships, to prioritizing projects in order to keep everyone happy while I try to heal, attend physical therapy, and manage newfound pain and limitations.
In this post, I offer my [brief] thoughts about aging and struggles when a body, probably abused through pushing too hard, but also enduring the normal wear and tear of aging, begins to betray you while trying to come to terms with to a new normal of limitation within your own being – “adapting” if you will – a skill that I believe women have come to master well.
Where is the humanity? Why are my sisters and brothers continuously subjected to persecution? Who will help and stop this madness?
I am a member of the human race. Collectively I identify with those who need help and are oppressed. I do not identify with the oppressors, for they are like Pharaoh whose heart was hardened. In identifying with this group, I will provide a label of humanity; for the oppressors do not show care or love but evil and sin towards my people – they cannot be part of this group. As my people flee the boarders from the oppressors, the world has opened their gates to let them in. The world has not turned their back on them. However the oppressors continue to mar their homeland, destroy their culture, and attempt to erase their history, their identity, their footprint on this earth. They are not oppressors but are in fact committing cultural genocide. They are committing genocide against humanity, against anyone who does not follow their ideology, their way of life.
Why should we care? Should we care? For this I say yes. My people need protection and help, but like the Israelites in the story of the Exodus, they yearn for their homeland – a place they were forcibly exiled from. They yearn for food and clean water. They yearn for safety and protection. While you may think that my people were not forcibly exiled – they were. They fled for their own lives – for their own people, and the community’s hearts became hardened to their pleas for help.
The Syrian crisis is one that we have allowed to repeat over and over again. According to World Vision, nearly 12 million Syrians have been forced from their homes – half of which are children. At least 7.6 million have been displaced within Syria and more than 4 million have fled the country. Children affected by this crisis are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused, or exploited. Save the Children produced a video that shows what happens to a girl after three years of conflict:
One of things that has dismayed me since I began graduate school and started focusing my study on the Bible, is how much sensationalism exists. We are told in the academy not to use Wikipedia or watch the History Channel. The first, as we know, is unreliable due to the fact that anyone can enter information and make changes. The other caters to the general public. What compounds this problem is the fact that scholars, many times – even reputable ones – appear on these shows. Sometimes creative licenses are exercised by the producer distorting or otherwise shifting the message of what the scholar was trying to explain. Other times, scholars will just give the producers and the public exactly what they want to hear and thus perpetuating myths rooted in literalism.
This is not the only time this issues manifests. The other time I encountered this is when I travel to sacred or holy sites in the Middle East. The people in charge of sites may want raise money and increase tourism – so they give the people what they want. What do I mean by this? Walking into a place that has a story whether true or not provides pilgrims a sense of awe and wonder.
Certainly I am not saying that this experience should be diminished or should be taken away. What I am saying is that we should be a bit more truthful in our descriptions and remove the shroud of literalism that seems to fuel tourism and not faith. What was difficult for me when visiting Patmos is the rhetoric surrounding the island. It may or may not have been where John had his visions, but certainly the mystique surrounding the Church of the Apocalypse seems to perpetuate the literalism that surrounds the Book of Revelation as being prophetic in dealing with the end times. Moreover, the vendors around the Church certainly focus their merchandise to support this myth. However, while I study the Book of Revelation and teach that it is something other than prophetic, a person visits the island and the church, are told that it is prophetic – who is a person to believe? Me or the religious order running the Church or the vendors living on the island?
This also happens at dig sites. If a tourist is led by a guide or lead at a holy site being excavated and they tell them what they want to hear so they come back and tell their friends, who has more creditability – me or the person who guides on the site? When scholars like myself, write about a topic that seems to gel with what the commonly held view of the academy, and goes against literalism or fundamentalist beliefs, we become heretics in relation to the information being fed by the sensationalism on the History Channel and the tourist industry. So the popular view does not change and the academic view is left on the margins and Biblical literalism wins.
Last week, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in the news again, but not for reasons you would expect. She, along with Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, penned a feminist essay about the Exodus title “The Heroic and Visionary Women of Passover.” Finding this story was exciting, especially because I am so drawn to the Exodus story (the intrigue and curiosity of which caused me to return to school and study, as one of my main areas of focus, Hebrew Scriptures – along with Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern History). Now women’s roles in this story are being elevated thanks to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rabbi Holtzblatt.
Before I discuss the message and the importance this message brings, I think it is important to know an important fact about Justice Ginsburg. Ginsburg is not observant, but does embrace her Jewish identity. When her mother died, she was excluded from the mourner’s minyan because she was a woman; an event in Judaism that is meant to comfort the mourner, brings a sense of community, and is considered obligatory – a means of honoring our mother/father. This important event left an impression and sent a loud message that inspired and influenced her career path – she did not count – she had no voice – she had no authority to speak. No wonder her life and career focuses so much on women’s rights and equality.
WARNING: This article or pages it links to contain information about domestic abuse and sexual violence which may be triggering to survivors.
No matter what you call it abuse is abuse. This is highlighted in the popular book and now movie Fifty Shades of Grey. Because of the stir this book caused, I delved into the first book and my initial reaction was that of repulsion and wonderment. How could a woman let a man control her like that? Why would she let him do things like that to her and continue to come back to him? Why is this book so popular?
Are women sexually repressed in a way that their own sexual experiences are routine and boring (the book is full of BDSM) or they have never orgasmed (every time they have intercourse, Anastasia is guaranteed to orgasm)? Why do we find it okay to label body parts as “love boxes” or “considerable length” or the multitude of references to a man’s penis or woman’s vagina that is meant to sound sexy or romantic? Why does he announce “I am going to f*** you now” every single time they have intercourse? Can’t the reader figure out what is going on without making this announcement?
However, after I got beyond my initial reaction (or shock), I took a step back and became upset and outraged. In essence, the overall issue with the book can be summed up in one word: control. Some women argue that the awkward doe-eyed virgin journalist exercises control over the sexually deviant
Picture from fanpop.com
billionaire that keeps him coming back to her – I disagree. I see control exercised by the sexually deviant man over a woman enamored by him in such a way that is sexually, physically, and psychologically exploitative and abusive. Yes – I understand this is fiction, but this type of writing causes immense problems.
In a culture that embraces “Blurred Lines,” money and power, and “the bad boy persona,” this storyline fuels the fodders of the fire with a sensationalism that plays on sexual fantasies and/or those wishing prince charming will sweep them away. One needs to look no further than “The Bachelor” or Bret Michaels’ “Rock of Love” television shows that promote the exploitation of women’s desires to be with the rich handsome man at any cost to self and dignity. In fact, an article posted about the movie stated that if Christian Grey was not a billionaire and behaved in the same way, he would be arrested and labeled a sex offender. So again, is the message we want to send to our daughters, nieces, and friends is that the rich can do whatever they want and you should let him? I think not.
History is written by the victors – this is something that we all know, or at least should know. I apologize in advance for being elementary in my discussion, but I think one thing that scholars tend to do too often is assume our readers or audience has a firm grasp on what we are talking about. With this topic, I am not assuming.
When studying artifacts from past civilizations, an interesting phenomenon of using spolia as a demonstration of conquest is commonplace. If a conquered country’s deity is placed on the bottom of a column, or even turned a different direction, the significance usually means that deity is demoted or inferior – this is found in the Hagia Sophia (especially under the structure). If spolia is found whereby a country adds their deity (even if that deity is their ruler) to another country’s monument, then there is a coexistence or combining of empires with the conquesting ruler in prominent view, even substituting past rulers. This is best demonstrated on the Arch of Constantinople whereby Christian symbols and the likeness of Constantine was incorporated into an arch that once displayed the victories of Marcus Aurelius and Domitian. If you are interested in this topic, please see my article “Hagia Sophia: Political Symbolism in Stones and Spolia” in Popular Archaeology magazine.
For those who are unaware of my research focus and methodology, I try to use history to reconstruct or reclaim the feminine voice through more of an exegetical lens rather than an eisegetical or ideological lens. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I have yet another opportunity to restore credit to or at least bring visibility back to a woman who fought for Thanksgiving to be recognized as a national holiday on the last Thursday of November. Her works, though plentiful and sometimes known only by title, are largely forgotten to history; Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788-1879) is responsible for Thanksgiving becoming a national holiday in the United States.
Certainly, I do not have to go into the disparity that befell women during the 1800’s when it came to education and overall fundamental rights – that is a history with which we are all well familiar. Hale was educated through her brother, Horatio Gates Buell, who shared his education while attending Dartmouth College and “seemed very unwilling that [Hale] should be deprived of all his collegiate advantages,” and through her husband, David Hale, a lawyer who helped her cultivate her writing skills in the evenings. They even established a small literary club with their friends that allowed her to write. Hale was left a widow at a very young age with five children, the oldest age 7. Hale, like so many women during that time period, had to find a way to support herself and her family.
After authoring a book of poems with her sister-in-law, The Genius of Oblivion and Other Original Poems, Hale, in 1827, published her first novel called Northwood – a book published the same year as Uncle Tom’s Cabin that also challenged slavery. From fame gained through this novel, Hale obtained a job as an editor of a women’s magazine, Ladies Book (later Godey’s Ladies Book then American Ladies Magazine), where she worked for about 40 years. She wrote about half of the material contained in the magazines, as a means of helping to educated women. Hale helped to discover and promote such authors as Edger Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lydia Maria Child, Catherine Sedgwick, Lucretia Mott, Emma Willard, Susan B. Anthony, Henry David Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.
She is credited for helping to establish Vassar College for women and wrote the familiar child’s poem “Mary had a Little Lamb” in 1830 (Poems for Our Children, republished in Juvenile Miscellany), Traits of American Life, which contained the story of “The Thanksgiving of the Heart:”
Abstract from the Study: The low proportion of women within the subject areas of Theology and Religious Studies has long been observed, and is increasingly recognised as a serious problem for staff and students. In this new study, Mathew Guest, Sonya Sharma and Robert Song chart patterns of gender imbalance among staff and students across UK Theology and Religious Studies departments, exploring why such patterns remain so persistent. Drawing on interviews with Theology and Religious Studies academics across the country, the report examines the professional life of female university staff, and makes recommendations for how universities might address the inequalities of opportunity and practice that emerge.
While this report focused on UK institutions, it is an important study for this field of study and did garner feedback outside of the U.K. Some of the findings that may be of interest:
Females outnumber males at the undergraduate level in theology and religious studies (60/40). When moving to the taught post-graduate level, the proportion of female students drop to 42%, and at the post-graduate research level (Ph.D. program) another drop to 33%.
Women make up 29% of academic staff in the field of theology and religious studies. 37% amount early career academics and lecturers, 34% senior lecturers, and only 16% amount professors.
Comparing the field of theology and religious studies to other disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences reflect the same trajectory of gradual female withdrawal in tandem with academic progression. The drop-out rate seems to be more dramatic in theology and religious studies, especially between the undergraduate and taught postgraduate levels.
Structural factors influencing this pattern include the tendency of theology and religious studies departments to recruit postgraduates from international contexts in which a form of Christianity that favors the authority of men is prominent.
Interviews with academics in the field reveal additional factors which include entrenched connections to Christianity and Christian churches, the gendered style of academic engagement in some of the sub-discipllines, and the up-hill struggle to develop the confidence to succeed in a male-dominated environment.
Generic issues include poor allowance for childcare and family responsibilities as well as bullying.
Advisors have a profound effect as well as interaction with the faculty.
Often, women are pressured to perform better than their male counterparts in order to stand out from the other female candidates.
Gender stereotypes that work against “women’s entrance and mobility” in academic jobs, especially those related to leadership positions.
Collegiality focused on “male sociability”whereby women’s ideas are suppressed or they find themselves on the margins within their departments.
Being the lone voice or scapegoat in the department for “women’s issues.”
Studying stereotypical topics and migrating away from traditional “male” disciplines.
In a space that has been flooded with negativity and scenes of war and violence, I find my Facebook newsfeed lit up with people from all walks of life engaging in this challenge. For those that may not be aware of how this works, you are invited to take the challenge by either donating $100 to ALS research or dumping a bucket of ice water over your head. Those with means seem to be doing both, even exceeding the minimum donation amount. However, despite millions of dollars raised for important research, there are critics of this challenge. They vary widely from diverting donations from the ALS Association because foetal stem cells are used in their research, a violation of Catholic Social Teaching, to objections to a display of privilege; watching those with means wasting precious resources to perform this challenge.
For me, I have been torn over this debate. I think today, more than ever, we are in desperate need of levity. More than that, we need to rebuild our sense of community and can do so while raising awareness about ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, an incurable, progressive degenerative neurological disorder. I think that this challenge has accomplished all of these goals. From former presidents to billionaires, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to professional sports stars (even teams), movie stars and musicians, to my neighbours, friends, and family members – there is something about this that ties everyone together – a common bond, if you will, forged by this challenge. Not to mention, over $90 million has been raised to support research so far, with a record breaking $10 million raised in one day alone. To put this in perspective, the annual average annual donations received by the ALS Association is usually around $2.1 million. Continue reading “#IceBucketChallenge – Raising Awareness While Being Good Stewards by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”
When I originally learned about the concept of receptive ecumenism and the movement to more fully reach across lines of faith traditions as a means of ecclesiastical growth, my first reaction was to ask the question – what about women in the pews?
Dr. Paul Murray from Durham University conceived of the idea of receptive ecumenism, which had three international conferences of church leaders and theologians working together in a way that looks to learn from each other. The focus is not that our religion is better than yours, rather what can we learn from your faith tradition that could enrich ours without compromising our tradition. With this final conference and after years of lectures, meetings, and publications, Dr. Murray sent this concept out into the world to see if it had legs – and it really does. Pope Francis embraced this concept, so has the Anglican Church. The movement is also thriving in Australia to the point that eighteen delegates were present at June’s meeting in Fairfield, Connecticut. For my part, I raised the question whether or not the Catholic Church was postured to engage fully in this dialogue. Essentially, it boils down to this, how can we have an inter-faith dialogue when we are unwilling, as a church, to have an intra-faith dialogue that includes all voices. The teachings of the Second Vatican Council laid the groundwork for ecumenical dialogue to occur at a multilateral levels. The council mandated us to look inward as well. Continue reading “Movement Within the Catholic Church – Time for Receptive Ecumenism? by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”
I had the honor of speaking at the United Nations during the Commission for the Status of Women this past March about the Feminization of Poverty and the Impact on Migrant Mothers. Below is the text of my speech delivered. By posting my speech, it is my hope to use social media to help draw attention to this problem and use our resources to find solutions.
Over the last thirty years, rich countries have grown much richer, and poor countries have become, in absolute and relative terms, poorer. Global inequality in wages are striking and poor countries are turning to the IMF or World Bank for loans, which require “so-called” structural adjustments of devaluing currency, cuts in support for “noncompetitive industries,” and the reduction of public services such as healthcare and food subsidies, which has provided disastrous results for the poor, especially women and children.
The feminization of poverty not only means that more of the world’s poverty is born by women, thanks in large part to globalization of the world economy, but includes a denial of access to fundamental human rights, including health, education, nutritious food, property, representation, etc. Feminized poverty encompasses more than matters of individual suffering – it ensnares a vicious cycle of poverty that impacts their entire family.
Feminization of poverty has no singular cause. The United Nations Development Fund for Women identified 4 key dimensions that indicated a heightened rate of poverty for women:
First is called “the temporal dimension,” which means that women are often the primary caretakers of children and household duties. Women who live in developing nations may also have agricultural or physical responsibilities. With these demands, less time is available to devote to paid employment causing them to earn a smaller income even though they effectively do more work than their male counterparts.
Second is “the valuation dimension” which is defined as unpaid labor that women perform to take care of family members and other household chores. Work that is considered “less than” because formal education or training is not required.
Third, is “The employment segmentation dimension.” Women are natural caretakers and thus corralled into “women’s work”, such as teaching, working with textiles, or domestic servitude that includes caring for children or the elderly.
The story of Exodus, through a liberation lens, has different meanings depending on the person’s experience in life. I recently experienced my own kind of liberation, a freedom from decades old enslavement. Through this realization, I celebrated with many other women with the reminder – you are not alone!
The story of the Exodus is a familiar one. It is a text of oppression, journey, and freedom – a freedom that finds us in new surroundings, a place of revelation and transformation. Many have written about the Exodus text found in the Hebrew Scriptures from different ideological lenses and social locations. For me, I propose to apply this to menopause (also known as the “change”).
It is not too far fetched to look at menopause as a transformative event in a woman’s life. For a woman like me, who struggled with the disease Endometriosis since my teen years, menopause it is not only transformative, but liberative. The only effective treatment for this disease (for me) was the injections of Lupron Depot that put my body in “medical menopause.” Because of that experience, I felt like my body was being liberated from disease – this disease that debilitated me monthly or, at the very least, caused me tremendous pain.
A few weeks ago, I had the experience of attending a musical with a group of friends. I am not in the habit of blogging about my personal life, but I cannot help but wonder if my story and experience might help another. The problem about “the change” is that we joke about it and usually face it with unbelievable dread. I propose to look at the “change” as a positive – a new beginning, with a reminder to all women out there – you are not alone!
I received this revelation several months after my surgery at a musical named – you guessed it – Menopause! What started out as a much needed get together of friends turned into an awakening and celebration. Something that has me celebrating the change – even as I fan myself through the hot flashes (I prefer “personal summers”), tear-up during emotional commercials for no reason (something I haven’t experienced since pregnancy), clinching my teeth due to a quick-igniting temper that causes me to exercise remarkable restrain (and you thought patience was a gift to children and teens), to searching every cabinet for that holy grail of comfort food – chocolate. As I reflected on that evening, it occurred to me that I was living my own exodus story and the very thing that enslaved me can no longer hurt me – I am now free – renewed and emerged, but still in a strange wilderness that holds different challenges. Continue reading “Encountering “the Change” as a Personal Exodus and Liberation by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”
It is so easy to blame feminism for the ills of the world – mainly because of continued misconceptions and misunderstandings about the definition or meaning of feminism. Feminism is responsible for poverty, bad leadership, wars, the polar vortex, the list goes on. Feminism is still considered a derogatory term that serves to incite prejudice against those who label themselves as one. In fact, negative connotations surrounding feminism are exacerbated in today’s culture, especially in the media. Fox News seems to be the poster child of “femiphobia” – a term coined by Stephen Ducat and defined as “wanting to repress every man’s feminine side and demonize the feminine and gay wherever we see them.” Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Nick Adams, in a recent interview, illustrate this femiphobic viewpoint by blaming feminism for raising a culture of “wimps” and “wussies” and thus compromising the U. S.’s national security and weakening its global presence. In other words, feminism is to blame for the problems of the world.
According to Adams, men around the world are no longer allowed to be “manly” and that this phenomenon is a “dangerous” problem:
American men are of course very susceptible to it. It’s really important particularly in America given the leadership role that America has in the world that American men be allowed to be men.
What does in mean to be a man and how is Adams defining that stereotype? While I am aware of the discussion of gender identity and roles even gendered stereotypes, this post is not about what those roles mean. Rather, for this point of discussion, I want to address the issue of masculinity, feminism, and what it means to be a “wimp” as portrayed by popular media.
With that caveat in mind, I ask the following questions:
Is the author suggesting a move to a “hypermasculinity”?
Is Adams identifying masculinity with aggression and violence in a world where feminists and perhaps all women are demonized?
In a society dominated by the “alpha male” character trait,male honor and pride are paramount. Is Fox News telling men to replace so-called passive behavior with pride, abrasiveness, authoritarianism, and arrogance–in such a world if where women are demonized, then assaultand rape will follow. The call for “real men” or “hyper-masculinity” therefore provides a real potential to move us further towards a misogynistic rape culture of violence–in the direction of barbarianism.
While I sit and write this post, Christmas celebrations are concluded and I prepare, with the rest of the world, to embark on a new year; a year with my idealistic hopes and want for a better future for humanity. So for New Year’s I am taking out my golden lamp and making three big wishes: peace, kindness, and dialogue in the Catholic Church.
“True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It’s not a lovely façade which conceals conflicts and divisions…. peace calls for daily commitment.” – Pope Francis
Peace transcends governments and countries. Peace should be a daily commitment that each one of us lives every day and practiced in each of our relationships. Looking forward to a new year, I hope to put this into practice and we will see a shift in politics and attitudes that reflect an ideal of peace and reconciliation – not just nationally, but communally.
With peace also comes reconciliation. Fighting takes too much energy. Making a point to reconcile with that relative or friend that you had a falling out with is a goal that has the potential to bear fruit and be restorative.
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain
With peace and reconciliation comes kindness. This wish is a large request and one that the Pope calls us to embrace. A kindness is required that reaches the poor and oppressed, that reaches non-Catholics including atheists, and, that touches every race, class, and orientation. We do not have the right to judge – a sentiment that the Pope continues to reiterate.
According to Julia Baird, “even scientists are now touting the physical and psychological benefits of kindness, compassion, and selflessness. Multiple studies now show: a single act of kindness can trigger dozens more … and repetitive acts of kindness can make people happier, and less depressed.” This is not a new revelation, but a reminder of the benefits of kindness – a reminder we need to carry into the New Year.
We should, however, remember help the homeless, the children, and the oppressed. This group of people is often ignored the news media, but lack of attention to a problem does not diminish it. According to the Pope, scandals are the news of today, but the children without food are not news worthy. According to Pope Francis, we should not “interfere in the lives of others” in a way that is malicious, like gossiping or being boastful. This behavior brings hurt, bitterness and envy. Kindness is necessary for a better future for all of humanity.
Dialogue with the Catholic Church
“Fifty years ago, Vatican II spoke of communications. Let us listen to, dialogue with, and bring Christ all those we encounter in life.” – Pope Francis
Let us not focus on rituals and rules in the Church; rather, we need to focus on the people of the Church. People,
after all, make up the Church – not brick and mortar. Because of this, we need to focus on dialogue – a dialogue with each other, regardless of belief or life choices. This dialogue should be rooted in a positive attitude and carried out with love and humility. It should include a focus that reaches out to facilitate peace. This dialogue should also include the discussion of women’s roles in the Church. There are so many things to discuss. The Church is a human church. With the invitation to dialogue and re-address so many of the untouched or misinterpreted teachings of Vatican II, might we move forward and rebuild this Catholic Church on the shoulders of one who served the poor, loved everyone, and gave of himself?
What are your wishes for the new year? I would love to hear from you.
From my family to yours, may you have a peace-filled, prosperous, and delightful 2014.
Michele Stopera Freyhauf: Doctoral Student in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a Member of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University as well as an Instructor at John Carroll University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Adjunct Professor in Religious Studies at Ursuline College and the University of Mount Union. Michele has an M. A. in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carroll University, and did post-graduate work at the University of Akron in the area of History of Religion, Women, and Sexuality. She is also a Member-at-Large on the Student Advisory Board for the Society of Biblical Literature and the student representative on the Board for Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society (EGLBS). Michele is a feminist scholar, activist, and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia” and lectured during the Commission for the Status of Women at the United Nations (2013). Michele can be followed on Twitter @msfreyhauf and @biblicalfem. Her website can be accessed here and is visible on other social media sites like LinkedIn and Google+
What is a feminist mother of four daughters to do these days? Look at our media and how girls and women are portrayed to our daughters, teens, and young adults. Then take a look at how media portrays the face of feminism, promoting every negative stereotype out there. As I scroll through the magazines, listen to songs on the radio, and watch the programming targeted at girls in junior high and up, I cannot help but ask the question – Is the media trying to destroy feminism?
While this introduction might sound drastic, much truth lies behind the questions. One merely needs to look around and watch former Disney Star, Miley Cyrus, twerk and make lewd gestures with a foam finger while grinding against a man, almost twice her age, as he sings about the blurred lines of sexual consent. When I saw the news stories and yes, watched the video, I was utterly mortified and stunned. Gloria Steinem, in a statement that seems to condone this behavior stated that Cyrus’ performance (actions) is not a new phenomenon, but a product of American culture. Instead of looking at it through the lens of degradation and influence, she defended the young star by saying:
“I wish we didn’t have to be nude to get noticed. But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest… the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, then we would be saying ‘this is why China wins.’ You know? But that’s the way culture is. I think that we need to change culture, not blame the people that are playing the game that exists.”
With the new school year in full swing, I thought this post from almost two years ago would be an appropriate reflection, encouragement, and outward support to those returning to school or nearing the completion of their degree. Remember – do not give up – the sweat, sacrifices, and struggles are worth it in the end AND You are not alone. Remember the strength and courage it took to return to school or take that next step to pursue your educational goals will become the tool to help you persevere and reach that finish line!!
Going back to school at 30-something to complete a B.A. in a completely different field (from accounting to Religious Studies and Theology) was an interesting endeavor. After many years of legal and business writing as well as crunching numbers, learning how to write academically, including formatting citations and using new technology was quite an undertaking that has proven to be rewarding. All the searchable databases in the library no longer included card catalogues and microfiche. This was amazing! No more correction ribbon and electric typewriters (am I showing my age yet?!) Going to college in 1985 is different then going back to college in 2006. Continue reading “Enduring the Trials of Graduate School: From Conception to Labor Pains and Birth (Revisited) By Michele Stopera Freyhauf”
With Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a double mastectomy due to a genetic test that revealed she carried the BRCa gene, the issue of genetic testing is in the forefront once again. This is the second part of a three-part essay exploring genetic testing on newborns (part one and part two) and concludes with exploring personal choices and the psychological ramifications of genetic testing.
False Positives, Lack of Empirical Evidence, and Dangers in Expanded Newborn Screening
In the year 2000, most states only screened for about four conditions. As of November 2008, most states adopted screening for the 29 recommended primary conditions and up to 25 secondary conditions (See President’s Council on Bioethics, “The Changing Moral Focus of Newborn Screening,” 36). Since no federal mandate on newborn screening exists from state to state, this number varies due to the lack of understanding of the diseases or showing no proven benefit. In fact, the twenty-five secondary conditions recommended by the American College of Medical Genetics do not need urgent treatment in the newborn period or have no proven treatment (Also see Mary Ann Baily and Thomas J. Murray, “Ethics, Evidence. And Cost in Newborn Screening” Hastings Center Report (38, 2008), 28 ).
Then there is the multiplex technology of tandem mass spectrometry (MS/ MS) that can screen for over 40 “inborn errors of metabolism” from a single drop of blood (See President’s Council, “The Changing Moral Focus of Newborn Screening,” 9). While this technology has reduced the numbers of false positives, it is still far from being reliable. This is due to screening for rare disorders on a population wide basis – about four million babies annually. To illustrate this point, in 2007, 3,364,612 infants were screened for Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD) in the United States and 1,249 tested positive. After retesting, only 18 cases confirmed a positive result (See President’s Council, “The Changing Moral Focus of Newborn Screening,” 14). MSUD is a well-understood condition that shows some benefit for screening. However, when we expand screening to add conditions that are not understood as well as mandate all newborns in the United States to be tested, false positives are likely to be in the tens of thousands (See also Beth Tarini, et al. “State Newborn Screening in the Tandem Mass Spectrometry Era: More Tests, More False Positives” Pediatrics, 118 (2006), 448-456).
With Angelina Jolie’s electing to have a double mastectomy because she carried the BRCa Gene, and her mother and aunt died at a very early age of the disease, the issue of genetic testing is in the forefront again. This is a three-part essay explores genetic testing when it comes to newborn testing (part one and part two) and concludes with exploring personal choices, availability, and psychological ramifications of genetic testing.
After nine months of worrying and diligent pre-natal care, the day to meet your unborn child is here. Labor is long and for hours you lie in the birthing suite riding out contraction after contraction. The moment finally arrives and you discover you have a son; ten fingers, ten toes and seemingly healthylungs by the cry that you hear. He is then quickly taken over to the nurse’s station and a drop of blood from his heel is placed into a machine that in seconds will decode his entire genome. Soon your son’s future will be written in stone; he has a life expectancy of 30.2 years and has a 99% chance of dying from heart failure. In that instance, your son has been labeled as an in-valid and he is now doomed to exist within a lower class of society, one that will prohibit him from pursuing his dreams. Society has discriminated against your new baby boy based solely upon his DNA. A new form of eugenics is born.
This was the opening scene of the 1997 science-fiction movie called “Gattaca.” Besides pushing the bounds of human imagination, science fiction can serve as a warning about a future caused by the abuses of humankind. The opening birth scene in this movie is quickly becoming a potential reality. Now, a person’s entire genome can be decoded and in an instant, a person knows whether he or she will be susceptible to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Cancer, or other life threatening conditions. Proponents of genetic sequencing believe that this is the holy grail of medical care and tout phrases like “personalized medical care” and “significantly reduced costs of healthcare.” There is a rapid movement towards this goal through the proposed expansion of newborn screening for eighty-four conditions, most of which are not understood or have no known treatment. Continue reading “Genetic Testing: The Ethical Implications of Expanded Newborn Testing – Who Benefits? (Part One) by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”
In order to be at peace, it is necessary to find a sense of history – that you are both part of what has come before and part of what is yet to come. Being thus surrounded, you are not alone; and the sense of urgency that pervades the present is put in perspective. Do not frivolously use the time that is yours to spend. Cherish it, that each day may bring new growth, insight, and awareness. Use this growth not selfishly, but rather in service of what may be, in the future tide of time. Never allow a day to pass that did not add to what was understood before. Let each day be a stone in the path of growth. Do not rest until what was intended has been done. But remember – go as slowly as is necessary in order to sustain a steady pace; do not expend energy in waste. Finally, do not allow the illusory urgencies of the immediate to distract you from your vision of the eternal.
Last weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at the National Convention for American Mothers, Inc. about motherhood in the 21st Century. Because this is such a vital issue for mothers that live in the U.S. (since a large majority of families have two full-time wage earners), I thought it would be appropriate to share my speech here. With the understanding that this a forum for feminism, I believe that this topic fits this forum because it continues to show how unequal the treatment is between the sexes – whether it is pay, position in employment, healthcare, education, or simply balancing the responsibilities of family/career. For those that live in the United States, there is often a sense of exceptionalism, and as I clearly demonstrate in this speech, we are certainly a far cry from being role models that when it comes to protecting mothers (whether by birth or adoption) and families.
As a side note: One topic that was not explored, due to lack of data, is how maternity/paternity leave impacts same sex couples who become new parents – I have to believe that this is a topic to also examine (and I am would encourage any feedback here).
Recently the United States ranked 25 out of 165 countries for being the best place to live if you are a mother. This number is up from 31 a year ago and places us between Belarus and the Czech Republic.
You may be asking yourself, Why isn’t the United States in the top five or even in the top ten? The answer to that question becomes evident once we examine how that determination is made. The categories examined are:
The Election of women to government office;
Breast feeding programs. In the United States 75% of mothers breastfeed their babies, 35% continue to breastfeed after six weeks. The number shrinks because mothers usually return to work and find it difficult to to pump at the office;
Maternal death rate is another factor, which stunned me when I found out that the US has the highest maternal death rate of any industrialized nation. Approximately 1 in 2,100 women are at risk of dying during child birth;
Infant death rates is another category. Infant deaths are estimated to be 8 per 1000 births – a number that throws us behind 40 other countries;
There are standard depictions of Jesus that show a Caucasian male with blue eyes (some pictures have the occasional brown eyes), shoulder length brown hair, and usually wearing a tunic with sandals. Jesus’ demeanor is usually victorious, prayerful, inviting, and even reflects humility. Our culture creates an unrealistic depiction of Jesus so that in the United States (at least), we see a savior as a white male representative of the power structures that permeate every facet of life.
There are some variations of this image. The most common is this same image with dark skin. A depiction that makes Jesus more tangible to people of color. If we can accept this variation of Jesus, then why would we be upset when images become more culturally tangible, send a message that encapsulates Jesus’ ministry, or make us stop and think – challenging us to take our rose colored glasses off. When an artist creates an image of Jesus that is different than the standard described above, controversy occurs at varying levels. The artwork is removed or de-commissioned, protests occur, and in extreme cases, the artist will even receive death threats. Here is a small sampling of images:
From the time Benedict’s successor was revealed, I believed that we were witnessing something different – hopefully change. Pope Francis I embraces many “firsts” – which is probably why the Cardinals chose him. Change and reconciliation seem to be at the forefront – something the Church so desperately needs today. Francis is the first Latin American Pope, first Jesuit Pope, first Pope to use the name of Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, a Saint held in high regard by Catholics. When I heard his chosen name, I immediately thought of St. Francis, to whom my favorite prayer is attributed. This is a prayer that inspires me and speaks about how I try to live my life – as one who strives for peace, and provides love, hope, and compassion. St. Francis’ story is a powerful story of conversion from a life of great wealth to one of voluntary poverty. Francis received a revelation from Christ to “rebuild my Church,” in a way that embraces peace and love as well as providing protection for all of creation. The notion of “Protector” was a major theme in Pope Francis’ homily during his inauguration mass.
As an unlikely choice for Pope, mostly due to his age and health, Francis reminds me of another unlikely advocate for the people – a man chosen to be Archbishop because of his passivity and his ill-health – Oscar Romero. Romero surprised the people who placed him in office and stirred things up when he became a staunch advocate for the people that he served. Romero’s “moment of conversion” revealed something spectacular that changed Latin America. In his role as leader, he found his voice and became a defender for the poor and oppressed. It is because of Romero that I am hopeful that Francis will provide (or at least start the wheels in motion to provide) changes to the Catholic Church. Continue reading “Standing in Cautious Optimism with the Election of the First Jesuit Pope by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”
This Saturday I will be presenting a paper about Cyberbrides at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. While my focus for that paper is the impact on mothers and families, my research also revealed how some Cyberbrides (or Mail-Order Brides) are selected from internet catalogues with “satisfaction guaranteed” and how “International Marriage Broker” may be a cloak hiding the agencies’ involvement with human trafficking.
The story of Thecla is an intriguing one – it is above all a story that demonstrates a woman in active ministry – a story that shows a woman as an Apostle. The story found is found in the apocryphal literature called Acts of Thecla (sometimes found in “The Acts of St. Paul and Thecla) and seemed to attract the ire of Tertullian and the writers of the Pastoral Epistles. In fact, some of the names in this story also appear in the New Testament writings. Thecla used to be a Saint in the Catholic Church, and is still a Saint in the Byzantine Rite. Please note that what I say here is not my original work but a compilation of various interpretations of stories about St. Thecla.
St. Paul was travelling in Iconium with his two companions, Demas and Hermogenes. They were offered hospitality at the house of Onesiphorus. Paul was giving a sermon praising virginity, stating that eternal reward awaits anyone who lives a chaste life. Thecla overheard his sermon from her window and became enamoured by his teaching to the point that she was unable to move from her window for three days and three nights. Continue reading “St. Thecla: Transvestite Saint and Woman Apostle by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”