Confessions of a White Feminist by Marcia Mount Shoop

Last week I had a vivid and visceral dream.  I woke from it feeling body sensations as if I had just had the experience I dreamt about. 

In my dream I am pregnant—or I am supposed to be pregnant. But I look down at my belly and there is no movement. Nothing. And my belly isn’t very big. I think the baby must have died. Then I feel movement—the feelings of a baby turning over and moving inside me. And I can see right through my skin, like an ultrasound image. 

I can see the baby positioning herself to engage the birth canal. She actually uses her hands to click her head into engagement. I realize she is face up and that this will be a painful delivery. I know that she is a girl. Then I see a reflection of myself in the mirror and see that my belly is still high and that the baby has decided to wait. She is not ready to be born. 

Continue reading “Confessions of a White Feminist by Marcia Mount Shoop”

Virgins with Pregnancy Scares: Feminist Reflections on the Annunciation by Lauren D. Sawyer

There I was in the bathroom, peeing on a stick. “It’s a rite of passage,” my friend Kelsey told me. She was the one wishing me luck from the other side of the door; she was the one who brought me the pregnancy test—and a pound of chocolate—after my panicked tears suggested I could not buy one on my own.

I came from a world of virgins with pregnancy scares. Growing up a girl in a conservative evangelical church, I was taught that all sexual sins—from kissing in the dark, to “petting” (whatever that was), to oral sex, to intercourse—were equally bad, were just as likely to risk my salvation. So many of us began imagining that the consequences were all the same too, that we might become pregnant by unconventional means. Lying naked together. Making out. Continue reading “Virgins with Pregnancy Scares: Feminist Reflections on the Annunciation by Lauren D. Sawyer”

The Women of Lech Lecha by Ivy Helman.

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oThe parshah for this week is Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27).  I’ve actually written about Lech Lecha on this forum before, concentrating on the parental aspects of the divine.  See here.  However, this time I want to look at the Torah portion from a different angle: what happens to the women?

While I’m concentrating on this theme, the parshah is rich with other material on which one could comment.  For example, the Holy One asks Abram to leave his home and all he’s known to travel through and eventually live in a foreign land.  There seems to be much fighting and strife between various rulers in the area through which they travel.  Abram too goes to war when Lot is kidnapped.  The first covenant between G-d and humanity takes place.  The deity promises many blessings (from land and material prosperity to innumerous descendants) for Abram and Sarai if they obey the terms of the covenant.  We also learn of the markers of the covenant: name changes and circumcision. Continue reading “The Women of Lech Lecha by Ivy Helman.”

What If…She’s Stronger than She Knows…by Molly Remer

“When I dare to be powerful–to use my strength in the service of my vision–then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Audre Lorde

“The purpose of life is not to maintain personal comfort; it’s to grow the soul.”

–Christina Baldwin

When teaching childbirth classes, I would speak to my clients about shifting the common fear-based “what if” cultural dialog of birth to “positive” anticipation rather than fears, encouraging them to ask themselves questions like: “what if I give birth and it is one of the most powerful, thrilling moments of my life?” While I stand by this practice, I also think about the what ifs that crawl out of our dark places and lodge in our hearts. The what ifs that snake around the edges of our consciousness in the early hours of the morning. The what ifs we try to push down, down, down and away. The what ifs that stalk us. The what ifs so very awful that we fear in giving voice to them, we might give life to them as well.

We may feel guilty, ashamed, negative, and apologetic about our deepest “what ifs.” We worry that if we speak of them, they might come true. We worry that in voicing them, we might make ourselves, our families, our communities, our work, or philosophies, our faiths, or whatever look bad. We want to be positive. We want to be blissfully empowered, confident, and courageous. And, guess what? We are. Sometimes that courage comes from looking the “what ifs” right in the eye. Sometimes it comes from living through them. My most powerful gift from my pregnancy with my daughter, my pregnancy-after-loss baby, was to watch myself feel the fear and do it anyway. I was brave. And, it changed me to learn that.

What if we can learn more from our shadows than we ever thought possible? There is power in thinking what if I can’t do this and then discovering that you CAN.

Continue reading “What If…She’s Stronger than She Knows…by Molly Remer”

Human Beings, Not Wombs in Waiting by Katey Zeh


Earlier this month the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a new infographic on alcohol consumption with some controversial recommendations for women of childbearing age. In short, if a woman is not on birth control, the CDC recommends that she avoid alcohol altogether because she might become pregnant.

My first take on the report was that this was simply another example of how we treat young women as if they are merely wombs in waiting. In her response to the recommendations Rebecca Ruiz wrote this for

While the original recommendation may have been intended to ensure safe pregnancies and healthy children, its underlying message was unmistakable: Women should consider themselves first a vessel for human life and make decisions about their health and behavior based on that possibility.

Despite severe backlash CDC officials stand by their assertion that the primary goal of this infographic is to alert the public about the dangers of alcohol consumption, particularly for pregnant women. In an interview with the New York Times CDC deputy director Dr. Anne Schuchat said, “We’re really all about empowering women to make good choices and to give them the best information we can so they can decide what they want to do themselves.”

When my husband and I made the decision to have a child, I immediately immersed myself in research. I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and began tracking my basal temperature. I started taking folic acid and yes, I did cut back on my alcohol consumption. The timing of that decision happened to coincide with attending a bachelorette party. As I nursed my club soda while the rest of our group had cocktails, I told myself that it was a small sacrifice to make. The thing is, I was trying to get pregnant. That decision about my future had shifted the way I thought about my day to day life. I was preparing for the real possibility that everything was about to radically change, so making some minor adjustments ahead of time felt small in comparison.

But the CDC’s recommendations are not intended only for women who are trying to conceive. They apply to any woman of childbearing age who has the possibility of becoming pregnant. The problem isn’t that they encourage women to be careful about how much alcohol they are consuming. The problem is that it reinforces the idea that a woman’s decisions and behaviors should be focused on a potential pregnancy, whether or not she wants one.

The fact that this is being promoted by a government agency is particularly troublesome in an age when the policing of pregnant women’s bodies is becoming more and more stringent. In 2014 Tennessee passed a law that allows the state to criminally charge women who give birth to babies who show signs of drug withdrawal. While this is the most extreme law on the books, other states have similar legislation that considers prenatal drug exposure a form of child abuse. What would stop a state from passing a law that would prosecute a woman for consuming alcohol during her pregnancy?

I’ve grown increasingly fed up with this emphasis on an individual woman’s personal responsibility and decision-making without an equally serious focus on the conditions in which she lives her life. Reproductive justice activists have been saying this for decades. Loretta Ross, co-founder of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, writes about the connection in her article “Understanding Reproductive Justice”:

We believe that the ability of any woman to determine her own reproductive destiny is directly linked to the conditions in her community and these conditions are not just a matter of individual choice and access.

As a person of faith committed to justice, I am compelled to take seriously what might appear on the surface to be innocuous and even ridiculous guidelines from the CDC and examine how they contribute to a larger, more dangerous narrative about women’s bodies. I fully support the CDC’s stated goals to reduce fetal alcohol syndrome and to ensure that every pregnancy is healthy. But we shouldn’t do so at the expense of women’s dignity and full humanity.

Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and educator who inspires intentionalKatey Headshotcommunities to create a more just, compassionate world through building connection, sacred truth telling, and striving for the common good.  She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service.  Find her on Twitter at @ktzeh or on her website

Holding On Too Tightly by Sara Frykenberg

Raised in an evangelical, Protestant Christian tradition, I was repeatedly told that “God is love.” God is love. While much of my Christian experience was difficult and even abusive, I have always interpreted this teaching—while sometimes confusing to me, and other times, fueling my spiritual inquiry—as a positive thing. When learning to shed the abusive contexts in my life, I did so encouraged by those who knew that love and god/dess shouldn’t be abusive. When challenging and responding to abusive paradigms within Christianity through my dissertation writing process, I reflected on how leaving an abusive cycle can feel like a hiccup from love, a frozen breathlessness and confusion on how to access love in new ways; but I also had to conclude that love hadn’t really been absent, even if hard to find.

God/dess is love—even when the dominating power celebrated within a particular religion, family or society distorts access to god/dess-loving. Yet, this issue with access, the trained approach to receiving love that is taught in an abusive context, is a habit that I have had to continually and consciously shed. I catch myself falling into patterns of get-love-through-control or get-love-through-performance behaviors. I try to be someone or something to ensure my access to what I perceive as love, sometimes finding it hard to accept that I am loveable without performance, role-playing or being someone that somebody else wants me to be. The more I experience mutual loving—or as Carter Heyward puts it, “godding” –the less I fall into this trap of performance; and the more I realize that my “performing” who I think others want me to be actually hinders my most loving relationships. However, while living outside of the abusive context has become easier in my life, sometimes I panic. Sometimes I hold on too tightly, afraid of the reality of loving without (the illusion of) control. Continue reading “Holding On Too Tightly by Sara Frykenberg”

Taking leave: How did you do it and how did it go? Sara Frykenberg

Image sourced from here.
Image sourced from here.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been preoccupied this summer with many questions regarding pregnancy, becoming a mother, and how to mother while doing my “work” as a feminist. But next to my constantly changing physical reality and the anticipation of a new family member, the question of what to do about my actual work, aka, my occupation, has been most pressing—perhaps, because taking leave from my job is something I feel that I can (and must) do something about in a long list of factors that I cannot control. Despite the imperative to act, however, I had a great deal of trouble figuring out where to begin.

As a professor in Los Angeles, I know that I have the same legal rights as other Californian women. I am allowed to take (unpaid) leave. My employer cannot fire me for exercising this right. I cannot be denied employment, legally speaking, because of a pregnancy. And… yup, that’s about all I knew when I started considering what to do about work… which is to say, I had no idea, practically speaking, how to exercise my rights. Continue reading “Taking leave: How did you do it and how did it go? Sara Frykenberg”

Pregnant with Thoughts by Sara Frykenberg

Sara FrykenbergI never liked the metaphorical use of the word “pregnant” as it tended to be used in the academy. Reading the “pregnant phrases,” of mostly men who were “pregnant with thought,” as a student, I felt angry by what I saw as a co-optation of my female potential, and even, a patriarchal ranking of what kinds of “pregnancy” were deemed important or worthy of “serious” consideration.

At this time in my life, I did not know if I wanted to have children or ever be a mother. However, retrospectively, I know that I had internalized the picture of “good” motherhood projected all around me by my religious community. Specifically, I remember watching two female leaders who had been vibrant and vocal members of one community become quiet, even silent, objects of adoration. It was as though I watched them walk behind and close a door, marked in my mind with the sign “appropriate female role,” and they ceased speaking. Other people spoke about them, even doted on these women—but I didn’t know where the women themselves had gone. These women were certainly pregnant, but seemed somehow less significant, no longer worthy of “serious” consideration, like sacred chalices holding the all-important blood of another life. I began to believe that you could not be you and be a mommy. I remember telling a friend or a sister, rather judgmentally, “I will never become a mother if I have to be like that.” Continue reading “Pregnant with Thoughts by Sara Frykenberg”

Birth as a Shamanic Experience by Molly

editMollyNov 083Childbirth is a rite of passage so intense physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, that most other events in a woman’s life pale next to it. In our modern lives, there are few remaining rituals of initiation, few events that challenge a person’s mettle down to the very core. Childbirth remains a primary initiatory rite for a woman.” –Maren Hansen (MotherMysteries)

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I read an article with the theme of “Birth as a Shamanic Experience.” I can no longer find the exact article (online or printed), but I distinctly remember my feeling upon reading it: I was entering into a mystery. Giving birth was big. Bigger than anything I’d ever done before and it went beyond the realm of a purely biological process and into something else. Like shamanic experiences, giving birth is often described as involving a sense of connection to the larger forces of the world as well as being in an altered state of consciousness or even a trance state. While shamanic experiences may involve “journeying” to other realms of reality, giving birth requires the most thoroughly embodied rootedness of being that I’ve ever experienced. It, too, is a journey, but it is a journey into one’s own deepest resources and strongest places. The sensation of being in a totally focused, state of trance and on a soul work mission is intense, defining, and pivotal.

Shamanic journeys may be embarked upon for the purpose of soul retrieval and I can’t help but think that this is the purpose of giving birth as well—the birthing woman travels into herself to bring forth the soul of her child.  Continue reading “Birth as a Shamanic Experience by Molly”

Motherhood: Still Women’s Most Valued Creative Contribution to Society? by Ivy Helman

I’m expecting…

The stork is delivering as we speak!  I hope you can join me in celebrating this joyous news  – although you should know, the stork is the United States Postal Service, and I am expecting my first book, not  my first baby!

It sounds somewhat crass (even to me whose book this is) to even try and pass off a book in the same way in which women announce they are expecting baby/babies.  Sadly, writing books, which is one use of a woman’s creative energy, does not seem to be as valued as a woman’s ability to procreate, another use of a woman’s creative energy.  Among the circle of friends I grew up with, children still seem to hold a more cherished place.  On, my “friends” post weekly updates as to the progress of their babies, pictures of their “baby bumps” and pictures of their newborns.  Just through reading comments, the excitement is palpable. Continue reading “Motherhood: Still Women’s Most Valued Creative Contribution to Society? by Ivy Helman”

Getting Tenure, Part I: It Took a Village by Grace Yia-Hei Kao

 “[T]he many sacrifices made for my career have not been borne by me alone….Here are some of the ‘villagers’ to whom I owe a debt of gratitude.”

On December 1, 2011, the full professors at Claremont School of Theology unanimously recommended two of my colleagues and me for tenure. Provided that the Board of Trustees approves their recommendation and two extremes never come to pass (either “financial exigency” compels my institution to start laying off people willy-nilly or I do something professionally or morally egregious enough to be dismissed “for cause”), I now have a job for life! :)  Continue reading “Getting Tenure, Part I: It Took a Village by Grace Yia-Hei Kao”

Hands Off By John Erickson

This post is written in conjunction with the Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue project sponsored by Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Lincoln University Consortium,  Claremont Graduate University, and directed by Grace Yia-Hei Kao.

John Erickson is a doctoral student in Women’s Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University.  His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by his time as the director of a women’s center and active member in the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements.  His work is inspired by the intersectionality of the feminism, queer identity, and religious political and cultural rhetoric.  He is the author of the blog, From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter at@jerickson85.

I find it little ironic that I am writing about Mary Daly’s formidable “anti-male” book Gyn/Ecology.  I remember reading the book when I was a sophomore in college and I owe much to Daly and her opus because they helped me to identify as a radical.

I know my position in feminism is sometimes misunderstood.  I have often found myself on the defensive end when someone asks me the question: “Why are you a feminist?”  However, although my identification as a feminist is always changing and growing, the label “RADICAL” is one I proudly wear on my chest everyday.   Continue reading “Hands Off By John Erickson”

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