Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sorry Catholicism, I'm Pro-Choice!

I was raised in a strictly Catholic household, and while my mother was fairly liberal, and my father had no particular attachment to the Church, we lived with the implicit knowledge that we were Catholic and that everyone else was practicing the wrong religion.

It was not my parents who instilled Catholicism into my upbringing, it was just the way things were. We had no choice and we knew nothing else. My family was very open to talking about sexuality, but only using euphemisms. The women would sit around the kitchen table sipping coffee and giggling over which one of them ate carne cruda, which translates to raw meat, but means to give oral sex. I could hear them talk about other people's daughters and how they saw the girls wearing a mini skirt or showing off her mid-riff, kissing a boy a few blocks away, or with a condom in her purse. And much later at night, when they thought all the children were sleeping they would gossip about the women they knew who had abortions. They never used the word abortion, but it was obvious. They would say things like "she bought the pills that make your period come back" or "she made her husband punch her in the stomach" or "her mom sent her a special tea from the Dominican Republic" and sometimes it went to the extreme, "she punctured herself with a knitting needle" or "she used a coca-cola bottle."

At the time I was not allowed to questions, but I was a curious child and my mother always tried to answer anything to the best of her abilities. When I realized that what the women in my family were talking about was abortion I felt disdain for the women they gossiped about. My mother would rarely talk about other girls, in fact, she would warn my aunts and cousins about comparing their daughters to others. Her favorite saying was "nunca digas 'de esa agua no beberé'" which translates to "don't ever say you won't drink from that glass of water" but means that you should not assume you will never be in a certain situation.  When I asked her about abortion she just said that I should never feel that I cannot talk to her. From early on it was clear that my reputation as a good girl was tied to my sexuality, and although my mother did not want that to be my reality, she knew it was how my culture would value me.

Whenever I was asked what I thought about abortion I would bravely defend the potential for life. For a high school project I stood in front of the classroom and spoke about the way an embryo has tiny fingers and a heartbeat, how the mother could become depressed after an abortion, and to bolster the sentimentality of a pregnancy I showed a lot of pictures of beautiful babies with their caring mothers. I truly believed that a pregnancy was a miracle and that no person in their right mind would want to hurt their baby, but while my intentions were in the right place I was very naive.

At the time I was not sexually active and I had every expectation to save myself for marriage. I considered my virginity the most valuable asset I held. I imagined with disdain having to tell my husband I had been with another man and feeling sorrow for his dissatisfaction; the thought that he was probably not saving himself for me did not even cross my mind. I had never heard of a man being valued for his virginity, in fact, it seemed that men who were sexually inexperienced were mocked by society. My father had a child when he married my mother, but he boasted about my mother being a virgin on their wedding night. I was under the impression that saving oneself for marriage was the morality quick-fix, but only for women. This left me feeling guilty for being curious about my sexuality and terrified at the possibility of getting pregnant before I was married.

Living on my own and meeting people from other walks of life gave me a different perspective on sexuality and abortion. Our society sees sexuality as only acceptable within the rigid confines of heterosexual matrimony and for procreation. Sex for pleasure is offensive and irresponsible, unless you have signed a legal document with a partner of the opposite sex. Yet as much as socially conservative groups insist that the only safe sex is no sex, their ideals do not match our reality. Social conservatives reminist of times when good girls remained pure and waited for marriage, yet they forget that women had no other choice. Women in these scenarios were, and still are in many places, confined to the home, escorted to activities, and under constant watch. If we have to chaperone sexuality until the participants sign a legal marriage contract, what are we trying to prove? Our fascination with an intact hymen results in the demonization of sexuality and puts the entire worth of a girl dependent on whether a man has had sex with her or not. Furthermore, what message are we sending our boys and men? We tell them to value women based on their sexual history and speak of their genitals as if they had damaging powers.

Directly tied to sexuality is the ability, as women, to make decisions about our bodies. Sex is nothing new, people have been having it for generations. We can try as much as we want to say sex should only be acceptable within the confines of marriage, but that was not always the case. Traditional marriage was a simple declaration of intent. The only reason Churches were told of marriages and births was because they were the record keepers in any given city or village. Slaves in Latin America and the United States were not legally allowed to marry. There were no religious ceremonies and contract signing, two people were in love and decided to be with each other against all odds. Slave men would be separated from their families as punishment and the women were raped at their master's whim. We'd like to believe that we have moved on from this mindset, but we have kept the same ideals for women.

Women have had access to contraception and abortions throughout history. The Talmud mentions inserting a sponge soaked in lemon juice into the vagina as a spermicide. Hippocrates wrote about using the plant Queen Anne's Lace seeds as a sort of morning after pill. The need for women to control how and when they have children is imperative to equality, fairness, and limiting the amount of children that are abandoned and unwanted. No one wants to have an abortion, and in an ideal world no woman would need one. But in the world we live in women are sometimes raped and impregnated against their will. This is a world where we shun comprehensive sexual education in schools and in our homes and then blame a pregnant teenage girl for her suppose lack of morality. In this world, we posit motherhood as the single most important achievement for all women, without realizing that some women simply do not want to become mothers and some are not financially able to do so. If we truly care about motherhood we should want women to enjoy their sexuality and have children on their own terms. If we want to decrease the number of abortions then we should make motherhood easier for women. Fund daycare centers, ensure that parents get paid maternity and paternity leave, give young men and women the access to sexual education and contraception, and most importantly, let's value women as individuals, not potential baby makers.

Being pro-choice means that I get to decide what I want for my own body. I do not get to tell another woman that she should or should not have sex based on my beliefs. I do not get to judge women on how they lead their personal lives. Those who want to be bound by religious moral standards have every right to do so, but they do not have the right to force their stoic lifestyle on anyone else.

Putting science aside, those who passionately oppose abortion on the idea that the rights of a fertilized egg or an embryo trump the rights of a woman try to make me feel uncomfortable and dirty by calling me a "baby killer." They use words to attempt to dehumanize me and tug at my sentimentality, and for a long time those words hurt. But you know what hurts more? Crippling poverty, hunger, sex slavery, honor crimes, child brides, rape, human trafficking, and far too many other things. If you truly want a better world fight for social justice and human dignity.

Letter from Soraya Chemaly

About a week ago I chimed into a twitter conversation with @Tempibones on twitter. She was having a discussion with a homophobic "future priest" and I made a comment in jest about "hating when people pray on my behalf." It was a joke, though I would prefer someone ask me before praying for me. Soon after this "priest" that goes by the name of @Sacerdotus seemed extremely agitated that I was a Latina, and [gasp] a feminist. He continued sending me messages about how I was brainwashed by White women. Hilarious! I obviously am just a weak Latina who cannot formulate decisions for myself. He went on my blog and read every single one of my posts and commented on pretty much every one of them. He seems very invested in teaching me the history of his Church, which makes me wonder why he even cares. It's not as if I, a mere woman on twitter will dismantle the institution he holds so dear. Eventually I blocked him because his rants were getting really ridiculous and I really did not care...I started responding with sillyness because what else am I to do with a man hell-bent on making me feel like a daughter he's trying to punish? It was mostly very paternalistic and creepy. He seemed to have an obsession with the fact that I was a Latina, so I blocked him, but he continued to read my tweets and take screenshots of them. Eventually he wrote a dissertation, I mean, blog post about me. It was the ultimate "I'm not done being mad at you!" 

Funnily enough, it was the Church he holds so dear that led me to feminism. It was seeing the machismo and sexual shaming (of women) in my culture, led by the Catholic church that drove me to feminism. I won't post his blog post here, the blog post with the picture of me that he never asked permission to use, because it won't make any difference. I read it and it reminded me exactly the reasons I left the Catholic church, and all religions for that matter. It wasn't feminism that drove me away from a paternalistic, misogynist, sexist, and racist was that institution the drove me to feminism. 

Below is a letter I received from Soraya Chemaly, one of the most inspiring women I have ever met. I often chat with her because I feel that she understands where I came from and how I got here. I'm not sure why I knew that, we have never talked about our relationship with religion, but life has a way of putting the right people in your path, and the wrong ones to remind you of the amazing people in your life.

Thank God I'm a feminist!

Dear Patricia, I too am a “naïve,” “radical” feminist. Although, at 46, no longer young. I’m also a Georgetown University grad, ex Divinity school aspirant, mother, wife, daughter and in all things “colorful.” I “go by the name” that was given to me, Soraya Chemaly.  Feminism has helped me understand, per your writing, “freedom.” Recently, I saw that you were involved in an exchange with a priest named Sacerdotus, who suggested kindly and with paternalistic concern that women like you and I, as a result of our feminism, will hurt ourselves…by crashing into things.  

As a young woman, the building that I most often crashed into, apparently disoriented by “all kinds of sophism and relativism” was most always a Catholic church.  Like you I entered a university and was “brainwashed with ideas” – you know, classes taught by Jesuits about humanity, compassion, social justice, equality, liberty - Enlightmenty things.  It’s strange how they “seem to make sense and give hope,” even to women. So, it irks when the Church that professes to love us does everything within its power to make sure that we cannot achieve our hopes in these capacities.  When women do, it is only commensurate with the degree to which we accede to the demands of unilaterally male-defined gender roles of Church doctrine.  I'm not being flip and do not doubt in the least that this priest, or say, Cardinal Dolan and assorted bishops take their work with the utmost seriousness and compassion. But, their norms, ethics and deliberations are informed by their experience and millennia of misogyny.  No governing body that excludes women, but makes decisions on their behalves unilaterally has moral legitimacy.  As such, their conclusions and the consequences of those conclusions will remain fatally flawed and, literally fatally for women, unjust.

 While I do not measure my life against men’s, I do measure it against the standards that people, led almost entirely by all-male bodies, use to assess humanity and distribute rights.  In this way, I have found many men, women and institutions, wanting for the simple reason that they reject as fundamentally equally human female bodies, desires, experiences, insights and authority.  I, for example, do become  “overly sensitive” when the messages the Church sends about where I am to derive my sense of dignity are intertwined with sexually convoluted ideas about reproduction, purity, motherhood and restricted roles for women.  Ideas that find their origins in rifely sexist concepts of female baseness and moral incompetence.  I become “overly  sensitive” when men I don’t know profess to do things I don’t like or want in the name of protecting me from other men I don’t know who would hurt me or others of my gender, largely as a result of our not being male.  His post on you and your experience in life is the finest example of mansplaining, to use a rapidly being overused word, blather I have come across in a long time.

 But, it goes beyond that.  He explains that the Church “built the Dominican Republic,” but while he does this to highlight why you should be grateful to the Church he fails to note that it did this on the backs of people of color  – that includes, btw, women.  After the Church participated in the colonizing holocaust of an indigenous population.  The Church’s role in slavery is well documented.  “Our” “Western” “Civilization” is the basis for untold oppressions.  You should be ashamed of yourself for holding up this particular example of its success. Until the mid 20th century the Church accepted most kinds of slavery as simply the result of the human condition. That and a consequence of original sin. Sound familiar?  But, small things.  He goes on to say that you should acknowledge that the Church built “Western Civilization.” There is no denying that there is a lot of good in Western ideas and ideals. But, the Church did this while it burnt women at the stake, deprived the vast majority of them of education, consigned them to early death through compulsory pregnancy and childbirth, relegated them to third class status by the billions.  The ideas and ideals of his admiration have long excluded, as the Church continues to, women. 

As for “radical feminism” not contributing anything to the Dominican Republic he himself proves this to be false: it has contributed you and I think you’re terrific! While he lauds your mother’s ability to struggle, and positively notes her not identifying as a feminist, he does absolutely nothing to reflect on how her life might have been less of a struggle if her access to work, money, food, control, or authority had not been necessarily mediated in every single meaningful dimension by men - economics, politics and, yes, faith. Good fathers in his terms.  It might interest him to know, by the way, that while you and I have both come to feminism,  my father is alive, well, married to my mother, loves and is proud of me. Oh, and he’s Catholic.  Some fathers are alive and maybe better fathers than others.  But, no father knows best just by virtue of being a man, which is the foundational premise of his argument and of the Church’s entire hierarchy. 

Women like you and I, both women of color, educated in the “West” of multi-ethnic heritage and, by happenstance, in possession of functioning brains, are not living in “ideological prisons created by white women.” We are living with actual constraints created by arrogant and entitled and condescending men like Sacerdotus.  That is the “shadow” we are living with.   I’m glad he thinks feminism, with his approved limits, is a good thing.  But, his commentary on feminism and its historical evolution demonstrates the degree to which he fails to understand two basic facts: 1) feminism is a planetary struggle to end sexism and the exploitation of women and, unfortunately, for all of the real good that the Church does, it is a sexist institution that exploits and bodily endangers women in vastly unequal measure to men and 2) men and women who are engaged as feminists understand that the divisions we encounter within the feminist movement only make us stronger.  His portrayal of feminism as simple a rich, white woman’s pet project is shallow at best and disingenuous at worst.  As a weary, age old, divide and conquer strategy, it fails. 

As for your “obsession” with his “masculinity and genitalia.”  Sorry to say, but no, I’m not obsessed and, tweets aside, neither I suspect, are you.   The Church, however, is and this is the frame for a lot of the debate about women and the Church.   I do not hate him or other men, I just abhor systems that entitle him to power so arbitrarily.  Systems that allow him to think it is his god-given right and job for you tell women what to do – because, in the end, they have a penises and one less x chromosome.  Every child comes to understand this exceedingly simple truth.  As we grow up it is layered, one sexist blanket after another sexist blanket of, as he says, “all kinds of sophism and relativism.” But, it’s really not more complicated than that.  Women can and do think for themselves and are perfectly capable of participating fully, if they chose, in ministerial leadership.    

Does all of this make me angry?  Yes.  If it didn’t I’d worry that I’d died and didn’t know it.  The question is, why doesn't it make him angry.   

By the way, cute photo! Which I’m assuming, despite all of his web pages disclaimers about getting his permission to use or cite text, he didn't ask if it was ok to use. 
 Thank you Soraya!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Kick Ass Latinas: A Collection of Quotes

Below is a collection of Latina women who inspire me with their words. I plan to continue adding quotes from kick ass Latina women that make me proud! So keep checking for updates.

Julia de Burgos (February 17, 1914 – July 6, 1953) was a Puerto Rican poet. She was a tireless advocate for the independence of Puerto Rico, women's rights, and African/Afro-Caribbean writers.

"Don't let the hand you hold, hold you down."

Frida Kahlo de Rivera (July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954) was a Mexican painter. She is known for her self-portraits and being a fierce advocate for female sexuality and women's empowerment.

"I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you."

Celia Cruz (October 21, 1925 – July 16, 2003) was a Cuban Salsa singer and performer. She is called the Queen of Salsa and is known for her vivacious personality, zeal for life and her trademark shout "¡Azúcar!" ("Sugar!" in Spanish.)

"When people hear me sing, I want them to be happy, happy, happy. I don't want them thinking about when there's not any money, or when there's fighting at home. My message is always felicidad - happiness."

Sonia Sotomayor (born June 25, 1954) is a Puerto Rican Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, serving since August 2009. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic justice, and its third female justice.

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Zoë Saldaña (born June 19, 1979) is a half-Dominican, half-Puerto Rican actress. She is known for her roles in Pirates of the Caribbean and Avatar. As an Afro-Latina, she proudly represents our heritage and makes room for women like us in Hollywood.

"I've witnessed racism all my life. And of course there's racism and discrimination in Hollywood. You go for a part and they say, 'Oh, we really liked her, she's amazing, but we wanted to go with something more traditional'. As if I'm not a traditional American!"

Salma Hayek (born September 2, 1966) is a Mexican actress, producer, director and activist. Salma works on projects that draw on Latino themes or feature Latino talent for ABC Studios. She is also a spokesperson for UNICEF, Avon Foundation’s Speak Out Against Domestic Violence program, and Bono’s One campaign.

"You can be a thousand different women. It's your choice which one you want to be. It's about freedom and sovereignty. You celebrate who you are. You say, 'This is my kingdom.'"

Sandra Cisneros (born December 20, 1964) is a Chicana writer and feminist. She is also the founder of two foundations that serve writers and the organizer of the Latino McArthur Fellows. Her books deal with femininity and female sexuality within a patriarchal society.

"My feminism is humanism, with the weakest being those who I represent, and that includes many beings and life forms, including some men."

Julia Alvarez (born March 27, 1950) is a Dominican poet, novelist, and essayist. Her writings often deal with assimilation and identity and are heavily influenced by her Dominican-American heritage. Her works examine cultural expectations of women in the Dominican Republic and the United States, and for rigorous investigations of cultural stereotypes.

"Men often say that women change their minds too much. I say they sometimes don't change them enough. I mean changing their state of mind, their attitudes, their outlook, their expectations, their consciousness - most of all, about themselves and what is possible in their lives."

Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa (September 26, 1942 – May 15, 2004) was a scholar of Chicano cultural theory, feminist theory, and Queer theory. Her most well-known book is Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, which speaks of social and cultural marginalization.

“Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate. I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent's tongue - my woman's voice, my sexual voice, my poet's voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.”

Aurora Levins Morales (born January 24, 1954) is a Puerto Rican Jewish writer and poet. She is best known for her collection of essays Medicine Stories: History, Culture, and the Politics of Integrity. She is a tireless advocate for women's rights and is considered the voice of Feminism in Latin America.

“Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable."

Ellen Ochoa (born May 10, 1958) is a former astronaut and current Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center of Mexican-American descent. She was the first Hispanic female astronaut, paving the way for women in the science fields.

"Usually, girls weren't encouraged to go to college and major in math and science. My high school calculus teacher, Ms. Paz Jensen, made math appealing and motivated me to continue studying it in college."

Comandante Ramona (died January 6, 2006) was the nom de guerre of an officer of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), a revolutionary indigenous autonomist organization based in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. As a member of the Zapatista leading council, the CCRI (Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee), she served as a symbol of equality and dignity for indigenous and impoverished women.

"Our hope is that one day our situation will change, that we women will be treated with respect, justice, and democracy."

Isabel Allende (born August 2, 1942) is a Chilean writer. Allende's works are noteworthy due to their elements of "magical realism" tradition that often represents Latin American literature. She is most famous for her novel The House of the Spirits.

"Giving women education, work, the ability to control their own income, inherit and own property, benefits the society. If a woman is empowered, her children and her family will be better off. If families prosper, the village prospers, and eventually so does the whole country."

And many more to come...