Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Tale of Two Shirts

One lavender top that worked well with my maxi skirt but not so well with a particular pair of jeans that I spent the entire first night of my dream job adjusting and regretting, and I was The Girl With Modesty Problems for the rest of the summer.

Let me back up. I was 19. I was working for a summer catechetical program that I still adore. I was Shut the Front Door level excited to have been chosen not only for a camp team, but then to write the modesty talk. This was me:

So young. Such annoying camera cheese.

Then the first night of our first parish assignment, I changed out of my Sunday best skirt to wear jeans for our first high school night, but I grabbed the wrong pair of jeans so there was a bit of skin when I sat. I was really self-conscious about it and could not focus on my teammate's talk for the night. I even sat in the back row. Which is how the older, former teacher saw it and instructed my team leader to talk to me. A week later, my camp boss let me know he was considering switching me over to the Marian talk. 

I spent the next three weeks perfecting my "Thoughts, Words, Actions" modesty talk and figured out I was terrible at a capsule wardrobe. #thingsyoudonotknowatnineteen

I wanted my talk to be different, because things like this were happening in parishes:

Teens were burned out on the clothing talks. They showed up to swim parties and hang out nights covered from fingertip to toes to joke with us. I get it. I've been over it and frustrated with the dress code modesty rules each and every one of the dozens of times I have heard it as a teen and as an adult. 

Telling women to cover and hide parts of their body does not protect men or women. It sets the ground work for assault and victim blaming. 

Look. I'm not here to demand women have the right to walk around nude. I'm not vein-popping shouting that men should look away. I'm suggesting clothing is not the problem, and if we continue to play like it is, we are hurting our sons and daughters. 

I'd love a cultural shift that turns the fashion industry into something that works for women. Women come in all shapes and sizes. I would love to see silhouettes and lines in clothing reflect that in a more diverse way. That's not really where we go with the modesty debate though, is it? Instead, we filter people into the Always Nude Naysayers, and the Flowy Floor-Length Turtleneckers. We decide to focus on clothes, and ask women to take on the pressure of modesty while our men get it together. Then, we ask what sexual assault victims were wearing when a crime is committed against them. 

During the second half of my summer teaching, I was in a better rhythm. I went shopping over the break with my teammate  new-found BFF and found a shirt combo I loved. It was orange! It was long enough to cover my torso! It was in that ridiculous style that I had envied all through high school where you wear a white tank underneath to avoid cleavage! I felt pretty! All things good, right?

We wear our favorite shirt on our birthday.

Then came the week of the high school boys camp. My BFF and I had a modesty debate with a priest. It was heated but probably the most fascinating conversation I had been a part of to date. I was learning. I was experiencing new things. I was enjoying the heck out of my summer, and didn't want it to end. I was on my way to the chapel one night when my team leader again approached me and asked me to change my shirt. He said one of the high schoolers had asked him to ask me to change. My team leader (seminarian) could not have felt more awkward asking, and I was mortified. It was the worst moment of my life to date. I changed and remembered my team leader's words "At least he was listening to the talks?"

I am no less mortified by the moment all these years later, though for different reasons. I wish I had been better at dressing my body. I wish one of my male coworkers had stood up for me. I wish that I'd had a better understanding of modesty and the concept of being brothers and sisters in Christ. I wish that my Catholic education had better addressed the concept of femininity so that I didn't feel so lost. 

I'd always been a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal. I didn't know how to wear the tops and outfits that my peers wore. I didn't know how to dress my body type: I was tall, long-legged, with a long torso and large-chested. (Hence the t-shirt and jeans uniform. ) I was beginning to figure all that out in college. As a grown woman, I see the ways the modesty message I received was flawed. I see the ways I can resolve those issues for my kids. I don't want them to be so stuck on hemlines and custody of the eyes that they don't learn character or the inherent beauty of men and women. 

I was reprimanded twice that summer for wearing inappropriate shirts: One that showed the slightest bit on my back and one that supposedly was meant to draw attention to my chest. Nothing was said about the concert shirt I wore repeatedly. The band has a multitude of songs that are misogynistic, including one called "Date Rape." Looking through the photos, that is the one I regret the most.

I don't want to be *that* woman. The woman that jumps to the most extreme example every time. I don't read the word "modesty" and counter with "RAPE!" I believe it is a good thing to raise our children to care about others. I think it is a good thing to teach our children how to dress their body types, and to dress appropriately for whatever activity is on the agenda. It is good and healthy to help them find things that allow for movement and comfort. I just don't want them to think that a piece of clothing means my daughter is partially to blame for a crime committed against her or that my son would somehow be absolved from said crime because of what she was (or wasn't) wearing. This line of thinking works in more "trivial" situations also: magazines on the rack, sporting events, dances, the mere act of being at school. Women experience various act of harassment often from the very moment puberty hits. It does not matter how modest the clothing. The lack of respect does not come from immodest dress: the push for modesty is meant to address the lack or respect, and it is lacking.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Uninformed Ally Says What?

Sexual assault isn't exactly a great dinner party discussion. There is rarely a place on the Internet where strangers or acquaintances are able to learn or talk about it.

For several years, abuse and assault was my job. The conversation never ended, never dulled. I would wake up, go to work, then listen to survivors, plan support groups on it, have staff meetings on it, go to seminars and conferences to learn more about how to support survivors. Even the way I went grocery shopping was changed because of my work with survivors.

I'd wager there never is a great time to talk about the subject. Sexual assault is an ugly truth. It's something we don't want to know about. We don't want the experience, and we don't want to be reminded that it is reality.

Sexual assault and consent is messy. Complicated sometimes. It makes us confront our societal failures. Generalizations are easy. It is easier to tell ourselves that people are too sensitive, too careless, too irrational than it is to try to change the perpetrator's behavior or even our own beliefs.

I don't believe we want to hurt others. I don't believe we've all turned into combox trolls. So, this is me, trying to change the world. For those of you that have experienced sexual assault? I see you. I know you are there. The rest of us? We need to do our best to make sure that our words prove we are a reliable ally.

If you want to support sexual assault survivors, don't say these five things.

Because no one talks about their experience or because it hasn't happened to me, it isn't a pervasive issue. 


There are men and women in your life that have experienced assault. That isn't an educated guess, or a projection. Even if you have not, others have.

I was sexually assaulted and I am just fine, so those that are not fine aren't trying hard enough.


Every person in this world comes with their own unique set of baggage and coping skills. We all need different things to heal from trauma. If yours was a smooth ride, that is fantastic. Not everyone will have that same experience.

A spouse cannot rape their spouse.


A marriage vow is not blanket consent for sex.

Men can't be raped. 


Yes. They can. Rape is not simply vaginal intercourse.

If you don't want to be raped, don't do____.


No one deserves rape. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted. No one. We continually focus on the victims of rape because explaining away the circumstances gives us a false sense of control. If we don't do ___ and we tell others not to do ___ then, rape will not happen. But it will, because we are busy reacting instead of preventing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Violence Begets Violence.

This isn't a political post. It's not really about faith or religion either. It most likely boarders on philosophical, so take off your fight face, kick up your feet, and let's talk for a minute.

I watched this today. I don't watch many videos longer than a gif these days. It was difficult for me to hear her struggle to answer. I'm not a particularly empathetic person, but I felt real empathy for her.

There is a narrative we create about pro-choicers: pro-lifers see them as larger than life, cold hearted baby haters. Vocal pro-choicers want to be heard so desperately, that they help create the caricature. Then pro-choicers can point to the narrative that spins pro-lifers as women hating zealots who seek control over others. We all try to stay focused on the message, the talking points as though the words alone will break down barriers and convince others that WE. ARE. RIGHT.

The extremes exist. Most of us are lumped into the middle. I didn't watch the interview and cringe because she was trying to dehumanize an innocent fetus. A baby. A human. I didn't cringe when they'd talk over each other. He was trying to get her to answer a question, and she was trying to point his attention to something different.

I struggled because it brought the stories of so many women I have known to the surface. Stories that remind me of the cruelty of people.

The woman who's spouse had injured her to the point she had memory loss, and she was forced to relive the custody loss, abuse of her children and abortion she endured once she left. The women I know that are trying to piece together marriages as they crumble, when pregnancy feels devastating. The woman who had escaped her rapist, but only to face the threat of child support enforcement demanding she turn over the name so they could try to get reimbursed for her assistance funds. The woman just trying to find somewhere safe and anonymous to get STD testing after her husband had an affair. The pregnant teen trying to find a way out of an abusive home.

I have dozens of these stories that come to life for me when the abortion debate pops up. These are not just the stories of women I met while I was a domestic and sexual violence advocate. These are women I love. My friends. My family.

The message here is clear: violence begets violence. Abortion is not a single issue. It cannot be reduced to the simple act of an abortion. We have to form our responses to abortion around the issues that more often than not cause abortion.

Pregnant women are more likely to die at the hands of their abuser. Women are forced into abortions to cover up crimes. Women feel such shame and lack of support that they believe abortion is the only way out of "trouble." Why is that?

Violence begets violence. If we are not strong enough to stand up to the violence, the shame, the lack of support that women face, we are not strong enough to end the violence of abortion.

I'd like to put a positive spin on that to end the post, but it's a pretty bleak fact. If we cannot open our eyes to the issues women that are literally all around us are facing, then we don't stand a chance in the face of abortion. Think about that. You don't have to go to another country to find women experiencing violence or being shamed into submission. It is happening to women you know and love. I know that flies in the face of the "you shouldn't have to know them to care" truth, but it is right in our backyards. Homes. Neighborhoods.

It is easy to fight the caricature. It is easy to stick to your talking points, put your fingers in your ears, and try to carve abortion as a single issue that doesn't stem from any reality. But I say again to you:

Violence begets violence.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

2017 Books and a Brag

I need to get this off my chest, so if knowing this about me causes you to never want to read the blog again, I understand:

I did not meet my 2016 reading goals. I KNOW. I even shamefully added the YA series I had re-read and didn't want to add since I read them in a day, and I still came up two books short of my goal. I guess reading lists and blogs get pushed to the side in a year with a new baby and a move. Such is life. 

The combination of the fantastically dreadful political climate and my lack of posting has the number of Cathofeminism followers dwindling. For those of you left though, I offer a quick run down of what I read in 2016, what I plan to read in 2017 so far, and a painting brag so that I can remember I am still pursuing creative outlets! Let's get down to business and talk books. 

2016 Reads:

Modern Romance: Aziz Ansari
A good read. Ansari researched past and present dating trends and compared, contrasted, dissected the similarities and differences. Plus he's hilarious.

The Princess Bride: William Goldman
I was totally suckered into the story here. Great book. Goldman is a genius. 

As You Wish: Cary Elwes
I had a major crush on Elwes when I was ten, so if you did also, this is a great guilty pleasure read. 

Romantic Outlaws: Charlotte Gordon
I had no idea how much I loved reading about historical figures until this book. It follows the lives of Mary Wollenstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley. A truly fascinating story and now I need to make a mental note to add Frankenstein to my 2017 list.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed: Jon Ronson
Another one in the pop culture genre. While I am terrible about tweeting, I live on social media so it was an insightful read for me. 

rats saw god: Rob Thomas
I was mourning the moratorium on new Veronica Mars books, movies, series and went old school Rob Thomas. Great stuff. 

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History: Jennifer Wright
I love reading about crazy historical figures. I need more books like this. 

The Art of Memoir: Mary Karr
AMAZING. I immediately added a few of Karr's books to my list, and she's my current memoirist heroine. There's a Catho writer's shin-dig she will be at in June and I plan to do all I can to be there. 

The Girl on the Train: Paula Hawkins
More fiction! That is so rare for me. I basically read this because I am dying to see the movie (obsessed with Emily Blunt but five kids at home so waiting for the DVD) and now I just want to see the movie even more. Quick read.

Half Broke Horses: Jeanette Walls
Walls wrote this from her grandmother's perspective and it was such a vivid story. She's a fantastic storyteller, and I loved this maybe even more than The Glass Castle. 

I tried to read outside of my standard female comedienne memoir genre and found a few more areas to pull from in the future. When I was 12 or 13, I read the Vampire Diaries series and it was my favorite thing in the entire world. When the CW announced they would be doing a TV series based on the books, I was all "YEAH. IN YOUR FACE, TWILIGHT." But I never watched the series, and the promos made me never want to watch it ever, but I secretly wanted to re-read the books. I had my mom bring them to me and, well, let's just say that there's a reason I haven't read much YA or fiction since I was 12 or 13. It was still fun to read again for nostalgia's sake. 

2017 Reading List (so far)

Books I have not been interested in reading even though in theory I really want to read them:

1. Breaking Through: Helen Alvare

2. Anna Karenina: Leo Tolstoy

3. Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching: Anthony Esolen

Books I have and cannot wait to read but then I just end up playing spider solitaire on my phone because it is mind-numbing in the best way possible:

4. In Cold Blood: Truman Capote

5. The Liars' Club: Mary Karr

6. Lit: Mary Karr

7. The Woman Warrior: Maxine Hong Kingston

8. It Didn't Start With You: Mark Wolynn

9. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Ransom Riggs

10. My Badass Book of Saints: Maria Morera Johnson

11. Hillbilly Elegy: JD Vance

Books I do not have and will not let myself buy or check out or rent or borrow until I start actually reading more than a magazine article this year:

12. Everything I Never Told You: Celeste Ng

13. Just Kids: Patty Smith

14. Scrappy Little Nobody: Anna Kendrick

15. Talking as Fast as I Can: Lauren Graham

16. Frankenstein: Mary Shelley

17. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

As my goal for the year is only 15 books, and I have 17 and counting on my 2017 list, it's ambitious and I am considering some audio books for the ones I keep putting off. (I am looking at you, Tolstoy.)

Tell me: any you see that you loved? Hated? Dying to discuss? What are you excited to read this year?

Brag time: I have not painted since 2009. Kids got in the way.  I suddenly really wanted to make something, so I had the four older kids collaborate on the giant purple painting on top while I made a pair that were supposed to be for the bathroom, but I like them way more than I had planned to like them. Lesson learned: I miss painting.

Monday, November 14, 2016

High Profile Man is a Sexual Predator but We Can't Talk about It.

Yep. Check out this important companion photo. 

We're going to talk about sexual assault claims today.

Here's our scenario:

Bob is at work/bar/dark alley/in Buffy's home. Buffy is there too. They are working late/having a drink/passing through/chatting. By the time the night is over, Buffy has been sexual assaulted. She consented to spending time with Bob given the normal parameters of their work/bar/dark alley/home liaison. She did not consent to sexual contact.

It's the next day. Bob says Buffy was into it. She wanted to have sexual contact. Buffy says it's unwanted, and therefore a criminal act.

We can find scenarios like this all around us: in the news, or within our communities. It happens often. There is a disturbing phrase I hear quite often when Bob is not a stranger but instead a high-profile man:

"I don't have enough evidence to believe High Profile Man did those things."

I'd like to ask: what evidence would convince you?

What if two women said High Profile Man did these things? Three? Four? A dozen?

Is only a conviction good enough?

What if he admitted to being there, he had a substantial amount of power over her (physically, career-wise, etc.) and she said that he assaulted her. Is that enough?

What if there is no DNA? What if she cannot bring herself to face him again? What if she fears her life is not able to stand up to the intense scrutiny a sexual assault victim often endures? What if she is barely holding it together? What if he buys his way out of it?

When are we, the public at large, allowed to use sexual assault claims against High Profile Man when discerning his character? When are we allowed to let him know that his actions are despicable and we want none of it?

When will we tell High Profile Men that women are not there merely for their sexual domination?

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Sorry, grammar friends. I have no idea how "round-up" or "round up" should be written out. Fail.

I only had 28 posts for The Guiding Star Project to sort through, but the majority of them were focused on sexual assault. While that is certainly relevant to intimate partner violence, I will plan on another sexual assault post with links to all of those in April.

Taking the "Crisis" Out of a Crisis Pregnancy- This posts asks the pro-life movement to focus on the situations that drive women to believe abortion is the only way out.

Intimate Partner Violence- An introduction to IPV dynamics.

Pregnancy and Domestic Violence- A post that discusses the role pregnancy can play as an abuse tactic.

As I review these posts, they all seem to serve as an introduction to IPV. They might be particularly useful to use as awareness posts. Ahem.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Get Over It

I don't need to inform you that there was a Trump sex talk tape. I don't have it in me to write a scathing post about the man. What good will it do?

Everywhere I look, I see prominent pro-life figures choose Trump as their hill to die on. He's what they stake their reputation on.

And they are losing all credibility in the eyes of those that advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and in the eyes of the survivors themselves.

For years I have repeatedly told my less pro-life friends "No way. Pro-lifers care about women. We care about the circumstances that lead them to abortion. We care about every person." I have worked to hollow out this little corner of the Internet as a place that proves being pro-life is a consistent, all life has dignity sort of movement.

And these jokers are destroying that.

There are few Catholic pro-life voices out there saying "Wait a minute. This is not okay. It is not locker room talk. It is not okay for men to treat women as their personal playground." Do you know what they hear in response?

Get over it.

Get over it. We need the Supreme Court.

Get over it. But Clinton.

Get over it.

Do you know what that amounts to in the eyes of women that have experienced sexual assault?

Get over it You don't matter.

Get over it. Men can do what they want.

Get over it. Your safety is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

We needed to stand together on this one. Instead we are ripping ourselves apart and proving there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.

Get over it. A phrase too often muttered at victims of violence.