Privilege and Hierarchy in Community Care by Chris Ash

This is part one of a multi-part series on privilege, dehumanization, and hierarchy in organizing, activist, and ministry circles.

Early in my training at my current job, my boss explained our agency’s position on social justice and intersectionality to me: “When we center the margins in our work, everybody gets served.” Framed differently: When we expand the circle of who can access service, be treated with dignity, and have their humanity affirmed by others, those already within the circle get served, respected, and affirmed as well. Nobody gets excluded. Everyone gets support. In our work, we recognize that all oppressions are interlinked, and that you cannot effectively advocate for the abolition of one form of oppression without working to end them all.

I think there is a fear within circles of people who experience one or more forms of oppression that in order to allow care for those who are more marginalized, or marginalized in different ways, we must turn our focus outward to the margins, away from the center. And sometimes we do. Sometimes we need to stop talking about the needs of cis men long enough to really focus on harm experienced by women and femmes. Sometimes we need to stop talking about the experiences of white women long enough to recognize the unique oppressions experienced by Black, Latinx, and Native women. Sometimes we need to stop talking about the experiences of straight cis people to recognize the daily microaggressions, direct aggression, and harm experienced by trans and nonbinary people. Continue reading “Privilege and Hierarchy in Community Care by Chris Ash”

Bake the Damn Cake: Owning Up to and Mitigating Our Traditions’ Trauma Histories by Chris Ash

Christy at the beach

“We have learned that trauma is not just an event
that took place sometime in the past;
it is also the imprint left by that experience
on mind, brain, and body.
This imprint has ongoing consequences
for how the human organism
manages to survive in the present.”
— Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

While I’m not a trauma therapist, I work in a field in which I regularly support people who have experienced trauma. Sometimes I’m accompanying a recent survivor of assault at the emergency room for a rape kit, speaking warmly, offering compassion, providing distraction. Other times, I’m holding space over the phone while a fifty-something year old survivor tearfully discloses, for the first time in her life, the things done to her during childhood. Recent or old, those experiences shape us and our responses to them, even those that might not serve our health, are efforts to protect ourselves, to avoid pain, and to seek an elusive sense of safety.

“Trauma isn’t what happened to us.
Trauma is what happened inside us as a result of what happened to us.”
— Gabor Mate, in his presentation “Addressing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Trauma”
during the Healing Trauma Summit

Our attempts to resolve trauma, to escape it, may be labeled dysfunctional and may not, ultimately, serve our highest good. They are, however, the actions of someone who wants to feel secure, who wants to feel loved.

My desire to understand trauma and trauma recovery serves my professional development as well as my personal journey, and learning more about the how trauma relates to the body has proven helpful in both of these areas of my life. I’m not a mental health clinician — I’m a crisis advocate and consent educator. But the process, as I understand it, is something like this: Continue reading “Bake the Damn Cake: Owning Up to and Mitigating Our Traditions’ Trauma Histories by Chris Ash”

Passover and the Exodus: A Feminist Reflection on Action, Hope, and Legacy by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Freyhauf, Durham, Hahn Loeser, John CarrollLast 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 excludedRuth_Bader_Ginsburg_official_portrait[1] 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.

As many of us know, the story of Exodus is focused on two things 1) Moses and 2) liberation from the bonds of servitude and enslavement; women are rarely discussed.  In the essay co-authored by Ginsberg, women are described as playing a crucial role in defying the orders of Pharaoh and helping to bring light to a world in darkness.  In the Exodus event, God had partners – five brave women are the first among them, according to Ginsburg and Holtzblatt.  These women are: Continue reading “Passover and the Exodus: A Feminist Reflection on Action, Hope, and Legacy by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Bodies of More and Less Value by Oxana Poberejnaia

oxanaThere is a story in the collection called Avadanasataka (One Hundred Legends) of the Sarvastivadin school, one of the schools of early Indian Buddhism that did not survive to present day, relating one episode from the Buddha’s previous lives. The story is about king Padmaka who sacrificed his life to cure his subjects of a disease. Here is an academic article about this episode.

The Buddha was prompted to tell this story of his previous life in order to illustrate to his monks, once again, the workings of karma. All of the monks in the Buddha’s milieu were sick with a digestive disorder, while he remained well. The Buddha presented the story of king Padmaka as a proof that no good deed is ever lost and that what he had done then has an effect now in that the Buddha has good digestion.

Continue reading “Bodies of More and Less Value by Oxana Poberejnaia”

Operating out of the Good: Interpersonal Interactions and Oppression by Ivy Helman

How humans treat one another matters.  Oppression is not only systematic; it is also personal because humans reproduce societal forms of oppression in interpersonal relationships.   Take sexism for example. Sexism, at its worst, manifests itself in intimate relationships through physical abuse, emotional violence, mental manipulation and/or controlling behavior.

This isn’t the only of form of interpersonal oppression that exists between humans.  Humans oppress one another in many subtle (and not so subtle) but equally harmful ways.  For instance, there are also racist remarks and sexual harassment.  Yet, that’s not what I want I want to focus on here.  Instead, I want to look at interpersonal forms of oppression in which agents often believe themselves to be an agent of the good.

Let’s probe two examples.  As the reader will see, each example has its own motivating factor, its own concept of “the good” and at least one oppressive outcome. I believe all of these agents think they are doing what is best for another person and do not necessarily understand the ways in which they are reproducing oppression. If they did, I’m pretty sure they’d modify their behavior, or at least I hope they would.

Example #1

Last month I wrote about a job that I quit because they were so critical of me that I felt like nothing I did was ever good enough.  They treated everyone, regardless of experience, exactly the same.  More than that, the way in which I was made to feel completely inept at teaching dragged down not only my opinion of myself but upped my level of stress as I tried in vain to do better in their eyes.  After months of constant criticism and a poignant discussion with a colleague, I realized that nothing I did would change the system. Likewise, my evaluations would continue to focus on the negative and write off the positive. The corporate culture valued, encouraged and systematized multiple forms of critique with the assumption that this system produced better teachers and better experiences in general. They even had “satisfaction surveys” at their holiday party.  Who does that?empty-exam-hall

Clearly, the company operated out of the assumption that their method of consistently negative feedback motivated people to fix their mistakes. Rather, it inculcated high levels of stress, constant second guessing and poor self-esteem. That’s why it is oppressive. While it motivated me temporarily (I gave my three-week notice after three months of trying to do better in their eyes), no one can operate within that system for long. It is no wonder their turnover rate is so high. I can think of a million other ways to create better teachers.

Example #2

Two weeks ago, I experienced the worst vertigo in my life. I’m not one to rush to a doctor at the drop of a hat so for me to spend the day in the emergency room, something is wrong. Yet, my treatment here in Prague was awful. In the end, I went to three different hospitals before I was seen. The first nurse we went to turned me away saying I wasn’t bleeding and the doctor would not help me. Another office within the hospital took my insurance card and my passport about ten minutes after I arrived. After an hour of waiting, and watching the staff struggle with a patient seizing and puking up blood in the hallway of the treatment area, I was told that it would be hours before I would be seen. I was the only patient in the waiting room. The doctor told me that she did not consider my symptoms to be an emergency and that she was there to help the emergencies. What made matters worse was that she made it clear that she wasn’t going to treat me until she was sure no other emergencies would arrive. How can one be sure no other emergencies would arrive? Clearly, that would never happen. She literally said, “While I can’t technically turn you away, I want you to know you will be waiting a long time.” She was turning me away the only way she could by making me the last patient to receive treatment.

stethoscope-23441288983461x1ZClearly, the doctor felt stressed and overwhelmed. She was trying the best she could. Her concept of the good was to help only those patients she considered to be emergency cases. Yet, she also was extremely quick to judge how she thought I was feeling and made me feel that my experience was insignificant. Rather than value my experience and take what I was saying seriously, she behaved oppressively. Yet, to me, the worst part of the treatment was her telling me that if she could, she would turn me away. I’m speechless.


Because of these experiences I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we treat each other and the ways in which our behavior replicates societal oppression. What bothers me the most is that these people thought that they were acting within the framework of the good. I’ve been wondering whether their definition of the good is wrong. If it is not, then why is their behavior, motivated by a definition of the good, not actually doing good? How could behavior be modified to better align with definitions of the good?

In both of the examples above, I would say that their intentions within their understanding of the good are generally correct (creating better teachers and helping emergency cases first when swamped), but it is the way they are put into practice that produces oppressive behavior. Here, analysis of individual interactions and experiences needs to be assessed as well as corporate models that require certain interactions. Is there a way to do so outside of individual human initiative? From where does the motivation come? Do I, the receiver of poor treatment, have the moral responsibility to call them out on their actions?

I’m not sure how to answer these questions. On the one hand, I believe that they may not be aware of the ways in which their behavior oppresses others, so I should speak up. Yet, on the other hand, people who behave oppressively need to take responsibility for their behavior.

What I am sure about is this: humans often oppress others even when they act out of a common definition of the good. Yet, operating out of the good requires that all of our interactions create experiences that are liberating and life affirming. Failing to do so only replicates oppression. Humanity has a long way to go.

Encountering “the Change” as a Personal Exodus and Liberation by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Freyhauf, Durham, Gender, John Carroll, Menopause, Celebration, ExodusThe 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”

Lucy Burns, A Look at a Catholic American Suffragette by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

As we approach the election period infused with controversy, saturated by television commercials, as well as endless advertisements on the radio, Internet, and yes, even Facebook, we must remember the sacrifices made by our foremothers during the suffrage movement, which gave women the right to vote.  While all elections are important, this one has targeted issues involving women in a way that could negatively impact our rights – to the point of rewinding the clock on progress made in women’s equality during the last 40+ years.  This election needs the voice of all informed voters.  However,  it is imperative for all women to make their voices heard this year by casting a vote.  To turn a blind eye to these issues diminishes the sacrifices our foremothers made for us. To not cast a vote takes away your voice, makes you a silent bystander – something that was tried by the government and patriarchal system during the suffrage movement.

To illustrate this, I would like to highlight Lucy Burns and the Night of Terror endured at the Occoquan Workhouse by her and many of her friends.   Of all Suffragettes, Lucy Burns spent more time in jail then any other protesters.  Born 1879 in Brooklyn, Lucy was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition by a father who believed that his sons and daughters should be educated equally.  Burns gradated from Vassar College in 1902, then attended Yale Graduate School studying linguistics.  She eventually went to Oxford University in England to resume her studies.  It was at Oxford that she became involved with activism and the suffrage movement. Continue reading “Lucy Burns, A Look at a Catholic American Suffragette by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Hagar: A Portrait of a Victim of Domestic Violence and Rape

This week Twitter has been a flurry with information for victims of   domestic violence and rape.  This ranges from the U.S. redefinition of rape to include men to Nigeria’s first anti-rape toll free hotline for women.  There is even a male movement to stand against rape.  This problem is an ongoing issue, one that shows no sign of diminishing or going away.  According to Amnesty International, one in three women worldwide have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused and their abuser is normally someone they know.  As I contemplate this very difficult issue, I am reminded of the Biblical Hagar in Genesis 16. The story of Hagar and Sarai is abundant

Men Can Stop Rape (

in ethical situations that draw in the reader and presents complex issues that can be very troublesome.  If you take the text hermeneutically, through an ideological examination in its English translation, we have an Egyptian woman, who is also referred to as slave or concubine, forced to engage into sex with her owner’s husband for producing an heir.  Here the abuser is a woman with a docile and obedient husband portrayed by Abram.  What can we  glean from such a story for today’s battered women?  Hope or horrific defeat? Continue reading “Hagar: A Portrait of a Victim of Domestic Violence and Rape”

Son of Man: An Updated Gospel Story of Jesus Set in South Africa by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

January 12, 2012

Son of Man is an updated story of the life of Jesus set in the fictional State of Judea that is modern day South Africa – complete with warlords and child soldiers.    It could easily be mistaken for modern day Rwanda or Darfur with its modern issues and political overtonesRoger Ebert stated, “The secret of the movie is that it doesn’t strain to draw parallels with current world events – because it doesn’t have to.”  The director draws parallels between the gospels and 21st century Africa.  According to Dartford-May, “we wanted to look at the Gospels as if they were written by spin doctors and to strip that away and look at the truth.”  The director “captures the rhythms of African life in both rural settings and sprawling townships.”  “Feather-clad young angels offer an eerie echo and reminder of Africa’s lost generations.”

The movie also sticks with what Eric Snider calls “Traditional African trial music, dance, and costumes” as a type of worship or or allusion to Jesus’ godhood.  Judea is in flux; warlords and corruption take center stage.  Poverty, violence, and oppression affect the all of the people.  The key idea is that Jesus is a freedom fighter – one that fights injustice and oppression.  The director does not emphasize “Jesus’ divinity so much as his leadership, good sense and compassion.”  Jesus is not violent and his followers, most of whom were former child soldiers, are encouraged to respond non-violently, which goes against their upbringing and training. Continue reading “Son of Man: An Updated Gospel Story of Jesus Set in South Africa by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, But Obedient Ones are Rewarded in Heaven: An Examination of the Re-Invention of the Bengali Tradition of Sati By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History is a book authored by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.  This has become a well-known phrase used by most feminists to imply a meaning of disobedience or stance against the patriarchal structure of society.  Often in error, the credit of the invention of this phrase is attributed Eleanor Roosevelt and Marilyn Monroe.  Their image, and especially the image of Monroe, will often appear with the slogan on merchandise as a means of marketing and raising revenue.  Ironically, reinvention or reuse is prevalent in history when it comes to tradition or ritual for the same reason – monetary gain.  This practice is common and the benefit of reinventing or reinterpreting an old tradition is an automatic connection to the past giving continuity, which, according to Eric Hobsbaum, instills strong “binding social practice,” (p. 10) including loyalty and duty in the members of the group.  This is especially effective in manipulating the poor and uneducated who usually display strict obedience and blind acceptance of tradition. The Bengali reinvented tradition of satî is an example of this. Continue reading “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, But Obedient Ones are Rewarded in Heaven: An Examination of the Re-Invention of the Bengali Tradition of Sati By Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

The Black Horse: Our Bodies, Our Selves By Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion and women’s spirituality.  Her books include  She Who Changes , Rebirth of the Goddess, and the widely used anthologies she co-edited with Judith Plaskow, Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  She has been thinking about the black horse in relation to the online course she is teaching on Ecofeminism in the Women’s Spirituality Program at California Institute of Integral Studies.

“The driver…falls back like a racing charioteer at the barrier, and with a still more violent backward pull jerks the bit from between the teeth of the lustful horse, drenches his abusive tongue and jaws with blood, and forcing his legs and haunches against the ground reduces him to torment.  Finally, after several repetitions of this treatment, the wicked horse abandons his lustful ways; meekly now he executes the wishes of his driver, and when he catches sight of the loved one [i.e. his master] is ready to die of fear.”

I can’t seem to get this image from Plato’s Phaedrus quoted in Val Plumwood’s Feminism and the Mastery of Nature out of my mind or my body these days.  The other day I tried to read the above passage to a friend and my body became so tense that I accidentally cut off the phone connection—twice.  Now while I am writing my muscles are tight, and I am beginning to get a headache.  I cannot get the image of the black horse out of my mind because “she” (I know that Plato’s horse was a “he”) has lived in my body for as long as I remember.  She probably first took root in my body when I began to fear my father’s discipline.  She became bigger and stronger every time someone or something in culture told me that my body and the feelings of my body were bad, that I as a girl or woman was unworthy, that the things I cared about were not important, that my thoughts were wrong.   Continue reading “The Black Horse: Our Bodies, Our Selves By Carol P. Christ”

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