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Category: Feminism

The Law School Personal Statement

I first decided to go to law school in 2007. At the time, I was deeply entangled in an ultra-conservative, evangelical church that relied more on control and manipulation than it did the gospel of love. I had been raised conservatively from the very beginning so that religion wasn’t just something we did on Sundays or the salve to get us through tough times. It informed every facet of our lives. I was devoted to denying myself in the service of others – a noble cause, yet one that is easily abused. My misguided application of this value meant that I shouldn’t pursue anything that was personally fulfilling or could be construed as selfish ambition. The suppression of my needs, thoughts, and feelings in order to accommodate the needs and fulfillment of others defined my life. My declaration to attend law school was my sincere effort to impact the world in a tangible way. But there was a problem. My ambition threatened the control church leadership wielded over my life. Attending law school would have been an exercise of empowerment, a demonstration of my ability to think for myself. This threat was compounded by my gender. Women were not created to lead. The male authorities who were responsible for my spiritual well-being reminded me of my obligations to the church. Because I was naive and impressionable, I let their discouragements realign my priorities and resigned myself to staying where I was.

I finally gained the courage to remove myself from this body of believers and in its place chose a church that provided more autonomy, or so I thought. In my new church home, censorship of any idea that was a departure from the “unity statement” was necessary to protect the church family. Expression of liberal ideals (such as the equality of women) was judged to be unhealthy, even dangerous. When I realized that opportunities fitting for my gifts and passions were off-limits simply because god made me female, I became a feminist. For the first time in my life, I seriously considered the possibility that the church wasn’t always right. Shocked and bewildered, I discovered how patriarchy and misogyny are deeply embedded in so many faith traditions and how I had unwittingly contributed to the destructive consequences of these ideologies.

I began listening with empathy to the stories of those outside of the church with as much passion and investment as I had given to the church. I read stories of racism and violence towards women. I read about the Syrian war and the worst refugee crisis our world has ever encountered. Knowledge of these issues demanded a response so I began utilizing social media, writing on my personal blog, and donating to specific causes. Yet the inadequacy of what I could offer to improve these situations compelled me to find more effective solutions. As I devoured these stories and meditated on them, I lost my timidity and inclination towards “keeping the peace.” I also found my privilege and the motivation to use it.

All my life, successful people were like gods. I took for granted that they were smarter, more talented, and most certainly had been granted their positions in life just as randomly but irrevocably as I was granted my red hair, blue eyes, and freckle-prone skin. If you were going to be the president, it was in your DNA – like destiny but not as romantic. The arrival of my daughter put this fallacy to rest for good. This future woman whose well-being and education are in the palms of my hands has made me live. Her very existence brought clarity and purpose. When I replayed personal moments of oppression and imagined them happening to my daughter, the manipulation and spiritual abuse were undeniable. This perspective vanquished the guilt and obligation that kept me dutiful, quiet, and “good.” Now, empowered feminist, mother, triathlete, I live my life by this motto, “I am who I want to be” – a person worthy of my daughter’s admiration and respect – someone who, if she did turn out just like me, would be honorable, compassionate, and strong.

Having stepped onto the slippery slope that my past faith communities identify feminism to be, I have happily slipped completely off that slope and consider myself to be a non-religious, human-affirming individual who is happy for the good fortune to be alive and the ability to contribute to the world. I’m a writer, problem-solver, and optimist. While I’ve encountered some of the darkest yet socially accepted aspects of the Christian faith, I’m thankful for the many Christians who represent a faith that is empathetic and affirming towards those with differing beliefs. I’ve processed my anger towards the people and churches who hurt me and channeled it into passion for others experiencing oppression. I want to empower those who are disenfranchised and advocate for their legal right to freedom, equality, and justice.

When I first decided to go to law school, I didn’t have the focus, self-determination, or confidence to keep me from being derailed. And yet I’m thankful that it didn’t work out the first time around. My evolution into a person who validates the experience of every human being, seeks justice for those unable to advocate for themselves, and fights for freedom for the oppressed will define the change I strive to make as a lawyer. Now, I make decisions independently based on my values and desires rather than religious obligation. I set my sights on an ambitious goal and work for it without feeling selfish. I seek out the beauty and strength found in the stories of others without fear of their influence. These qualities demonstrate my transformation into a person who is ready to tackle the challenges of law school with all of the grit and gumption necessary to succeed. So I return to my law school dream – eyes wide open, fully empowered, knowing my own mind, and believing that if I work hard, stay focused, and keep learning, I can offer something to the world.

-Rebecca

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Post Election Thoughts

Just when I thought that maybe my contribution wasn’t needed, that there were already plenty of people fighting with and for the marginalized, that we had already become so progressive that I was probably on the tail end of the movement…

Just when I couldn’t believe that there were enough people in this country who could openly embrace, hesitatingly acquiesce, or even willfully turn a blind eye to tolerate misogyny, racism, and fear-driven hate toward the LGBTQIA+, immigrant, refugee, Muslim, and black communities…

Just when I had begun to realize what it would mean to elect our first female president – how it would prove that we had made progress towards gender equality, how it would prove that at least the majority of our country is ready to be led by the most qualified individual rather than the most male individual…

Just when I thought we were past the worst of it and ready to coast in to a happy and inclusive society…

The country proved me wrong and elected Donald Trump for president.

The laws that will be passed (or repealed) under the new administration are not my primary concern. As a friend pointed out, we have a government with checks & balances for a reason. Even if we suffer setbacks in that area, we will recover.

What does worry me are the changes to our social climate. Offensive and hateful rhetoric will now be more acceptable. There will be less incentive to evaluate internal and ingrained racism and sexism. There are many who must carry a burden of caution when they should feel safe in their homes and communities.

We now have a president with whom I would not want to be alone in a room. How will we make progress on the concept of consent and combating sexual assault? How will I be treated in the workplace now that I know so many doubt a woman’s ability to lead? What will happen if I’m not considered attractive to my male colleagues? What will happen if I am? These are my fears as a woman.

And yet, while I am a woman, the privilege I experience is so much greater than so many others who are minorities by their race, religion (or lack of it), gender identity, sexual orientation, or some combination thereof. When I imagine myself in the shoes of those minorities, I am broken again and again. Documented and undocumented immigrants alike are worried whether or not they will be able to remain with their families and in their homes. Black Americans have even more reason to fear that their lives don’t actually matter to the authorities and many of the country’s citizens. LGBTQIA+ individuals fear that they may be abused and ridiculed or even have their marriages revoked. Muslims can’t be certain that they won’t be treated like the Jews were during the political climate that led to the holocaust – added to registries and labeled as dangerous. And women must worry if “no” will be enough, if it will be a risk to say no, or if they’ll even have an opportunity to say no before being “moved on like a bitch.”

This feels personal. I found myself wondering in the supermarket if each individual I saw was someone who voted for Trump. Do they believe that my gender makes me less than? Do they believe that my most important asset is my beauty or lack thereof? Knowing how personal it feels, I also empathize deeply with all those who have been marginalized by our president-elect. To you who feel uncertainty and fear because of Trump’s words and the reality that the nation elected him as our leader: I love you, you matter to me, and I will do everything I can to fight for your rights, your dignity, and your opportunity to live life peacefully without threat of harm.

As grief and tears have been near the surface all day, sometimes bubbling over when I’ve paused long enough from the day’s distractions, I am reminded that I must continue to learn, speak, and fight. I have a renewed resolve to work towards a better world for all individuals.

Today it is even more important that we teach the next generation of males, females, and non-binary individuals that all people deserve to be treated with respect, welcomed to our society, and valued as contributors to the world. We must work to prove that women are more than their looks. We are not objects whose function in life is to serve and please cisgender, heterosexual men. Indeed, we are strong, capable, and worthy. [And we will see a female president one day.] We must lead (in word and deed) our children and others to be sensitive to the oppressive histories that have created inequality, to welcome the refugee, to affirm the rights of minorities, to respect the autonomy of others, to be kind in the face of hate, and to work for the success of our neighbors as much as our own. We must teach those with privilege to recognize their privilege, to listen to those who do not have it, and to use that privilege to lift others up.

We are not stronger when we fear those around us on the basis of race, sex, or religion. Diversity makes us stronger. When we embrace those who are different from us – when we open our minds and hearts and allow ourselves to learn and be changed by those around us – this makes us stronger.

We must not quit believing that a better, more inclusive, more loving world is possible. And above all, we must not give up. We’ve been given a check point – a wake-up call, if you will. As it turns out, we haven’t made it as far as we thought we had on the road to equality. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get there. We just have more work to do. So let’s get busy.

“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” -Maggie Kuhn

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Patriarchy, Policing Myself, and Queen Bey

Today I read an article from the Center for Biblical Equality about how patriarchy has taught women to police themselves and their rhetoric. Lord. Do you ever read something that just grips you… you identify with it so much that you wonder if someone is watching you. Your heart speeds up as you feel it in your gut – it’s pulling at you. This was not the most researched or strongly written article I’ve ever read, yet it made me cry at my desk in my office in the middle of the morning. I felt a little ridiculous, but I knew that what I was reading was something that was both completely true for me and completely wrong.

The highlights:

“Assertive, headstrong, and strong-willed are the “dirty” words used to undermine female strength and independence. … Strong women often regard their very natures as sinful and gospel-contrary because of patriarchal conditioning. … Patriarchal conditioning makes women enemies of themselves. Studies show that women qualify and apologize for their opinions where men assert and argue. … The self-questioning speaking patterns of women are not an accident and neither are they the product of a more passive, agreeable female nature. They exist because patriarchy cultivates uncertainty, other-appeasement, and self-doubt in women. … Nobody wants to be the headstrong woman these days. …

Even when I’m confident, I verbally undermine my ideas, opinions, and testimony. In the name of not appearing too aggressive, I tread softly and sit small. I surrender, capitulate, and backtrack. But often, no one tells me to defer to men. I undermine myself… I often pair my words with concessions and qualifications to counter any perceived aggression. I soothe egos and preemptively critique myself so I don’t appear bossy or controlling.”

I’m wondering if an unconscious version of myself wrote that second paragraph and then had it published under a pseudonym. Seriously. I do this to myself and I hate it. I hate that I’m more concerned with approval than I am with saying/doing what I feel is right. I hate that I’m more concerned with being likeable than I am with being known for who I am. I hate that I hide parts of myself to be more acceptable to those around me.

Depending on your exposure to media and the type of media you consume, you may or may not have heard about Beyonce’s new album, Lemonade. You don’t have to like Beyonce and I don’t need to  know the reasons you don’t. There may be plenty of valid reasons to disapprove of her. But this is a woman who has stopped policing herself. And for that single reason, I admire her. Not only is she a woman but she is a minority. She is not the voice that society wants to hear. The voices of those like her have been minimized and ignored. And yet she speaks. She tells her story and then she lets the world do with it as they choose. They speculate about her marriage and her religion. They analyze and criticize her narrative. But she just lets it be. She is who she is. She said what she said. And that’s enough.

I don’t blame anyone for the way that I edit myself. I think my personality made me extra susceptible to the conditioning referred to in the article. But I have to be responsible for myself. I decide to be who I want to be. I’m a grown ass woman. So it’s time to be accountable to myself. Why can’t I get over this? It’s hard work, people. Being courageous enough to trust yourself, to not care when your critics disapprove of you, to not be the most likeable person in the room… That’s a courage I have not yet fully grasped. But I want to fight for it.

 

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Feminism: My Beginnings

Growing up, even into young adulthood, there were certain parts of scripture that I ignored. I read them, briefly, felt uncomfortable and confused, then quickly moved on. It’s been a bad habit my entire life – avoiding difficult situations, choosing to be naive or ignorant about something that might cause problems. I prefer peace.

But there came a time, as is almost always guaranteed, when avoidance was no longer an option. Instead of those passages hiding away in the corners of untouched pages, they were put on billboards in flashing lights right in front of my face. And they injured me.

It took me longer than it should have to accept that there actually was a problem, but I have an achilles heel. Nothing has ever been more motivating to me than someone telling me that I can’t do something. Usually it has to do with a physical feat or something to be built or fixed. This time, it was different… “You can’t. Because you’re female. You’re a woman. Your abilities and qualifications do not matter in light of your gender. Satisfy yourself with other things because you have no place where you desire to be.”

And there they were. The passages that I pretended didn’t exist, that I pretended didn’t offend me, that I knew were a mistake, were now unavoidable.

For months I wrestled. I didn’t want to be someone who compromised the teaching of scripture to appease a personal deficiency. I’d been told just how certainly and directly scripture addressed the issue of women, especially in regards to their submission to men. I’ve realized how manipulative it is (especially for a spiritual leader) to say, “Scripture clearly says _______.” Even if you believe that, it’s not helpful. What I wish we said in churches and pulpits is this, “We read that passage of scripture. What does it mean? Let’s figure it out together. Even if we decide that it means different things, we will prove that we are his disciples by how we love each other.

There are tools to use when it comes to interpreting a text. As an English major, I learned all sorts of strategies and types of literary criticism in order to interpret literature. There are so many considerations – the author’s background and motivation, the historical context, the intended audience. There are different types of lenses to use – psychoanalysis, deconstruction, marxism, reader response, queer theory. The list goes on. Why do we do so much work to understand a piece of literature, but do so little to understand scripture? Obviously, the average person does NOT apply a microscope to literature in this way, only students of literature. But who, if not Christians, should be students of scripture? Before anyone even dares to say, “scripture clearly says,” there should be no stone left unturned and no theory left unanswered on that particular passage.

I can’t say that about my interpretation of scriptures that are often used to subjugate women into “complementarian” roles. But I can say that I quit hiding from those passages (even if it wasn’t voluntarily). I’ve confronted them, read about them from every angle, discussed them unceasingly (sorry friends) and come to a place where I’m at peace with what scripture says about me as a woman and God’s disposition towards me. I have settled, but I still remain open. Many posts will follow as I finally hash out in writing the process and conclusions. For now, I’ll say that I believe God intends for all people to be valued and empowered to live fully and productively in his community.

This is a topic that has been discussed for centuries. Many have written insightful articles and books that address every aspect of gender roles. I doubt that I can add anything to the discussion. That’s not my goal. Writing is a good exercise for me and reward enough in itself. I make it public so that maybe someone in my circle will be challenged to reconsider a position they haven’t fully vetted, empowered to confront a topic they’ve been avoiding, or validated where they feel insecure. May I always remain humble enough to recognize my fallibility and let’s never close the discussion.   The most important thing when we come to the table is to remember that love is our highest priority.

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I Don’t Want to Change the World

I don’t want to change the world. I used to think “changing the world” was the epitome of noble ambitions. Everyone theoretically wants to change the world, but only those who are the most talented, have the most motivation and opportunity, have the most determination and resilience are actually successful. That, most certainly, does not describe me. I’m pretty average. And I hate to fail. So I’ve always kept my ambitions a bit more realistic. I mean non existent. I’m not a planner. Ok… this is derailing quickly. Back to the point.

There are a lot of people out there who want to change the world. Whether they’re politicians, social activists, or religious people, the ultimate goal is to make the world a better place. To improve upon what is by changing the status quo. It seems like a good idea. But I’ve decided that even if I had the talent and ambition to do it, I don’t want to.

An aspiration to change the world implicitly means that one desires to imprint the world with their ideal reality. Most of the time that includes some sort of moral code. Most of the time that moral code has a very specific agenda at its foundation.

Conservatives want to change the world and accomplishing this means that no one is ever gay, no one ever immigrates illegally, and everyone has guns that are used for hunting and killing bad guys. Liberals change the world and everyone can be whatever gender/sexual orientation they want, everyone can get abortions, and no one is poor. Fundamentalists want to change the world and women have (and faithfully stay in) their place, no one drinks alcohol, and everyone does what they are told. Environmentalists want to change the world and no one throws anything away, no one drives, and no one uses hair spray. I could go on. Lots of people have agendas around which they want to change the world. This post is not about the merit or lack of merit in any of those ideas. I can get on board with some of them. I disagree with some of them. It’s also not about debating the stereotypes that I am obviously utilizing to demonstrate my point.

When people talk about wanting to change the world what they really mean is that they get to make the world look exactly the way they want. I’ve lived on this earth long enough to know one thing–I know nothing. Well, maybe not nothing. But I definitely don’t know enough to decide what is right for everyone else. Not only that, but my perspective is just too small. A perfect world is not going to be one where everyone has the same ideas, morals, and goals. I have my set of values–the foundation on which I live my life. But as I’ve said before, I’m constantly changing. As I read, meet new people, and learn about life, I discover truth and change accordingly. I don’t believe there’s anyone in the world who does not need this type of change. But it can only occur when we are challenged by people and experiences outside of ourselves.

I have a very dear friend who teaches HS Spanish in a tiny town in rural Missouri  where a large population of hispanic individuals are an unexpected cultural dichotomy to typical rural America. She has fought to create a mindset that recognizes diversity as strength. Instead of a school where two cultures are largely segregated in the lunchroom and hallways, she wants students to cherish the unique opportunity they have to learn and experience a culture outside of their own. She’s a very wise woman.

On the other hand. there’s a group of people that I know, love, and care for deeply, but they have some problems. They think they’re on a great mission to change people’s lives. The thing is, they are successful at helping some people but in the process they’re hurting others. They often treat people as though they’re disposable. They manipulate people into conformity. It’s not working. It’s doing a lot of damage to a lot of people. They have good intentions. They think they’re doing what’s best for those individuals and the world in general. In the meantime, they’re oblivious to the damage. The ends are not justifying the means. Not at all.

I don’t want to change the world. But I do want to be an engaged and productive contributor to the world. Instead of trying to remake the world into my perfect creation, I want to interact with it in a way that is honest, genuine, and friendly.

I think the first step is to stop being afraid of what would happen if things don’t change. The media poses this rhetorical question all the time (as do a lot of religious people and politicians).  I wish they would stop. They’re trying to convince us that things HAVE to change OR ELSE. What will happen if we don’t tackle global warming? What will happen if we don’t defeat ISIS? What will happen if we don’t solve the social security deficit? What will happen if Donald Trump becomes president? What will happen if Bernie Sanders becomes president? Some of these are real problems that need to be solved. But not everything is this imminent and fear is not a kind motivator.

So what will happen if things don’t change? Here’s what I think (and this is just my guess): Time is going to move forward. The world is going to continue to have problems. Bad things will happen. Good things will happen. Life will happen. I don’t want to miss the life that is happening because I’m afraid of what’s going to happen if I don’t change the world. It’s not worth it. So I’ve decided stop being afraid–to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing that’s wrong, to stop assuming that things that are different are bad. Of course there are bad things, but through experience I’ve learned that some of the things we put in that category aren’t actually what we think they are. (More to come on that topic.)

I want to interact with the world in a way that is honest, genuine, and friendly. So I’m going to spend time with my family, go to work, have fun, challenge myself intellectually and physically. I’ll help people that I have the ability to help, who need help, and who want help. That’s all. That’s enough.

I don’t want to change the world. But I do want to make the most of my time in it.

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